If there’s one thing the Internet is fabulous for, it’s giving virtually everyone the ability to be heard. Long gone are the days of controlled media messages sent out by the powerful few, information available only by way of the Tom Brokaw and Time Magazine. Thanks to the World Wide Web and an influx of user-friendly software, now even old Mr. Jones down the street can project his voice across oceans.
Podcasting is one of the newest, freshest ways for him to do that.
Think of it like an audio blog; a podcast is a recorded program similar to radio (sans commercials, of course) made available via mp3 files on websites or RSS feeds. But unlike radio, users can download these programs onto an iPod or any other mp3 device and listen at their own convenience. Also unlike radio, there are no FCC standards to regulate the content; a podcast can say anything about any topic at any time. It’s revolutionary, really.
And by following a few fairly simple steps, anyone can make them.
1. Get a Niche. Maybe you already know precisely what your podcast will cover: you want to host your own music countdown, promote your friend’s newest invention or discuss the nitty-gritty political issues of your home state. That’s great, get to it! But for those who aren’t so sure, who know only that they want to give podcasting a shot, it’s a good idea to check out what other hosts are up to. iPodder.org and Podcast.net are home to tons of podcasts on a variety of topics; download several shows on issues that interest you and see what’s being done and how you might do it differently. Don’t be afraid of creativity; try putting a new spin on an old issue or blowing the doors off a topic that’s only rarely, if ever, covered. Listeners will continually come to your podcast if you offer something fresh and vivid.
2. Get a Plan. Once you’ve discovered your niche, get down to details. Though the beauty of podcasting is the ability to buck the rules of traditional audio broadcasts, it sometimes helps to consider what made those rules so traditional in the first place; this will help you map your show much more effectively.
First, consider format: how long will the podcast be? Will you have guests or take phone calls? Will you play music of any sort? Think about how other shows similar to yours function, remember all the radio programs you’ve heard before. Keep in mind that while you can certainly forget all the rules, you want to keep your listeners listening; a you-only six-hour program about cheese might not be the easiest thing to digest.
Once you’ve figured out the format, divide and plan the show accordingly. If you’re hosting a talk show, for instance, decide how many (and which) topics you’ll cover and how long each topic will get. And don’t forget to break it up; since podcasts have no commercials, you’ll need a way to give listeners a breather between issues — consider using some sort of music or audio clip. Also, make sure to prepare opening and closing remarks for the entire thing, maybe even give listeners a sneak peek at the next program; identifying yourself, as well as referring to future episodes, is a great way to remind listeners to come back for more.
3. Get Tech. You’ve got the idea in theory, now get it into practice. You don’t need to be a tech genius to record your podcast, but you definitely need some basic recording equipment and software. First and foremost, you’ll need a microphone. While it’s entirely possible to use your computer’s built-in mic to record your voice, it’s a much better idea to invest in an external mic; the sound will be that much cleaner and professional. Shure makes several microphones perfect for voice recording (try an SM57 or SM58), and you can find these at very affordable prices on eBay or any music shop that sells pre-owned instruments. And while you’re scoping out microphones, grab a pair of headphones to track the sound; you’ll want some unidirectional that covers your entire ear. Again, eBay and used music shops are the best way to go for these.
Now you just need the software. Mac owners tend to use GarageBand, as it comes with the newest operating systems, but PC users or those with no recording software already on their computer tend to use Audacity, a free audio recording/editing program that can be downloaded online (audacity.sourceforge.net); it’s a fairly simple program, but tons of tutorials are available to walk you through its functions. Just remember to also download the free mp3 encoder as well; you’ll need that to turn your podcast into the most easily consumable file type.
Once you’ve recorded your podcast and edited out any mistakes (and added music or audio samples), you’ll need to minimize the file size (by either lowering the sample or bit rate), convert it to mp3 and upload it onto your website. Don’t have a website? No worries! Our media (www.ourmedia.org) has recently begun providing users with completely free bandwidth and storage for podcasts and other sorts of media. It’s a great way to get your podcast online while avoiding fees (if the podcast starts to gain a following, however, you’ll definitely want to consider creating a website for it specifically).
4. Get Heard. So you’ve got the first episode of your podcast recorded, edited, uploaded and ready to go. Now you just need some listeners — but how do you find them? The most obvious and widely used way of attracting listeners to your podcast is by submitting it to podcast directories and search engines, of which there are hundreds (run a Google search to find them). And while directories and search engines are a definite means to getting your voice out there, it’s sometimes worth looking into alternate methods of promotion if you really want to take your podcast to the next level. Get involved in online forums and blogs that are similar to your topic and trade links with like-minded people; there’s a whole community of podcasters out there eager to check out your program. And if your podcast has a regional slant, try getting some publicity in local papers or magazines. Though it may seem difficult, it’s often entirely possible to get mentioned in print media simply by asking. Create a press release and personal bio for your podcast and send it off to as many media sources as possible; you’ll be surprised at what may transpire.