Podcasting The Big Picture

The huge explosion of Podcasting 

By Mike Gorman

It seems every man, woman and child these days is either producing their own Podcast, or giving the idea some serious thought!

And it is now possible to access a podcast based on just about any subject, hobby, interest, nuanced angle you can imagine, the demand for information, and resources seems to be growing if anything; I thought I would present a good general overview what is involved in putting a Podcast together, defining just what makes a Podcast, and some of the technical aspects which are not often talked about in the usual sources of general information out there.

When people talk about Podcasts, just what do they mean exactly?

We have to go back in time to understand this expression, back to the earlier days of the WWW, when people were becoming familiar with the types of media they could use to effectively reach others on the web.

We know that all of digital media is made up from four main types:

1. Written text

2. Audio

3. Video

4. Graphical

These are what we have to work with. People have been producing media and presenting this on websites, and later on ‘Apps’ since the earliest days of the internet.

When Apple produced their iTunes platform, and brought out their iPod audio device, it became a ‘thing’ to refer to the audio spoken word productions as being a ‘Podcast’; these had been around for ages but the influence of this community was such that this name has stuck to describe an essentially audio production.

Well what about YouTube, and all the people who refer to their videos as being a Podcast?

Well, yes some of the more savvy producers of Podcasts understood that their productions would gain a larger audience if they also made a video of their sessions, YouTube has an enormous traffic throughput, and if you can provide a video version of your shows you stand a better chance of building an audience; you will find if it is called a Podcast a purely audio version is always available on the podcast sites.

The audio format has enormous convenience built-in, we can take the audio with us wherever we go, and the ubiquitous earbuds allow us to listen to a Podcast in a wide range of daily life situations, and we don’t need to glue our eyes on it!

So, we need to understand that Podcasting has this audio pedigree, regardless of the video aspect. Oh, if you are wondering about the strict definitions:

Podcast = Audio/can also have a video version

Vlog = Purely video series, a video version of a Blog, there is no audio made available.

Well, I am glad we clarified all that, so what do we need to produce our podcast, where can we upload, present, and distribute it, what equipment do we need, do we need expensive microphones, is it best to write a script, can we make any money from it, is it worthwhile, is it all too saturated to make it worth our time?

All these questions, and probably some more I will attempt to either answer, or at least make some intelligible comments about, dear reader if you will stay with me here…

 

“Radio used to be described as being ‘The Theater of The Mind’ today Podcasts are the digital equivalent, they are kind of bringing all that radio stuff back, ironically enough!”

In their most basic form, Podcasts are most usually an MP3 file, sometimes they can be WAV files but the MP3 is the most technically easy to work with, and the smallest file size.Of course, if there is a video version, this will be an MP4, but I am focusing on the Audio aspect of these productions, because this is what makes Podcasts so hugely popular.

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The producer arrives at getting their Podcast MP3 by recording their voice, or voices of contributors, from a Microphone which is connected via an ‘Audio Interface’ to their computer, laptop, tablet or even smartphone. The audio interface behaves like a Pre-amp, allowing a boosted analog signal to be converted to a digital data stream, pass this to a Digital Audio Workstation application, which then allows the producer to make fine adjustments,  to enhance the quality, and even add sophisticated effects and audio treatments such as EQ, Reverb, Compression and additional effects (if desired); it is this DAW (digital audio workstation application) which also enables the ‘Rendering’ of the final result into an MP3 file.

One of the more popular Audio Interfaces the Focusrite is very affordable

What about these DAW applications? Well once upon a time, only a few years ago, this kind of software was very expensive, it is very sophisticated and clever stuff; today you can get a professional standard suite for the cost of ‘Zero’ dollars. Names such as: Reaper, ProTools (yep, the very same), Cubase, Ableton, Cakewalk all have free perfectly usable versions. 

Condenser microphones, with XLR/USB connection, don’t worry about the connectors there is a solution for any desired configuration, are available very cheaply. In fact all of the kit you need to produce your Podcast can be purchased from the usual platforms (Amazon, eBay and so forth) for a few hundreds of dollars and the results you can obtain are ridiculously good!

Once you have your production, and you have tweaked it, adjusted and primped it to your satisfaction you now need to make it available, and how do we make things available on the WWW? Yep, we need to assign a URL to it! In other words we need to host the MP3, there are many options, but because I am one of those pesky promoters of independent production, I suggest a private host.

This does not necessarily mean having to spend big. Amazon Web Services offers us 12 whole months of free services, which means we have an entire year to make our Podcast a money making concern, find some sponsors, if this is your ambition; don’t worry about this if not!

AWS has S3, and we can generate an RSS URL from our bucket (AWS speak for folder).

OK, so now we come to the next phase of our Podcast production: either joining with the mobs on the Silicon Valley media platforms, or going full independent. We can still distribute our Podcast on whatever audio sites we like, but if we have a ‘Media Platform’ otherwise known as a ‘Blog’ or website, we can publish our Podcast on that first, why?

The WWW is all about publishing, and domains, this is what makes it work, so if you are a domain owner, your Podcast will take a huge benefit from being published under your domain ‘SEO-wise’.

If we are using something like WordPress, we have the added benefit of a nicely laid out back-end, this has a significant benefit to us as producers, so many Podcast builders complain about visibility, and being picked up among all the noise! Well this is one very powerful way to overcome this.

It is the attention to all of the small details which incrementally add-up, this is what SEO is all about guys! You knew that.

Adding a nice wrapper, and laying out our meta tags allows us to gain an advantage on all the generic Podcasters who follow the usual trends and commonly described approaches.

Next, we have the Podcasting platforms, which seem to be multiplying every week.

iTunes is of course the original, and most obvious destination, this platform is rich with multiple ‘niche’ audiences and lots of people looking for content.

The big thing about iTunes is the fact that you have to meet a certain standard of production, you have to do things right in order to be approved.

Being an independent Podcast builder, with your own domain-based platform is a big plus for iTunes; you need a ‘wrapper’ or podcast banner of at least 1400 X 1400 px, and no bigger than 3000 px, your audio must be loud enough and clear, and the RSS address must be working 100%.

I find if you can satisfy these default parameters there is a good chance on being approved by the iTunes review team (yes, they have one).

SoundCloud, Buzzsprout, Stitcher, are some other distribution sites.

As I said earlier, I am not a fan of the Podcast hosting services, unless they allow you to be 100% independent, fuck their ‘terms of service’, if you want to publish your edgy, non-politically correct content, you can!  Especially if you own your media platform…

So, Podcasting, it is growing in popularity, and it allows us to publish to a broad audience if we go about it in the right way. You can be a modern media personality, and build your reputation. all kinds of people are producing these days. 

Freedom of speech, entertainment, the production of unique brands of humour is especially interesting, along with political commentary, and education, people love to learn from audio, there is something about that stream of information which tends to stick in people’s heads!

If you seek advice, technical guidance and most importantly resources, WebStruct offers you some mighty benefits; we use AWS and totally independent servers. Contact me, Mike Gorman and I will be happy to help you out and point you to the best deals for kit, and technical services.

Good condenser microphones are best for vocal production-Amazon/eBay have lots!