Packet Pushers has had an open policy about our platform for a long time now. Our podcasting and blogging platform is open to any non-vendor community member who wants to share their knowledge with the rest of the community. If you’re interested in this, let us know via [email protected].
Over the years, we’ve had a few folks interested in community podcasting. While writing and publishing a blog is straightforward, podcasting is more complicated. Podcasting involves careful planning as well as the ability to produce listenable audio.
We wrote this introductory guide to help those considering Packet Pushers community podcasting understand what is required. This is not a detailed list of everything you will need to know. Rather, this guide shares enough information to get you started. You’ll still have to do a bit of Googling, research, and decision making of your own.
You need a topic – the big idea you want to discuss. Then you need an outline to follow which is built around that central idea. You don’t need to script the entire show. In fact, you probably don’t want to script each word, or else the conversation won’t sound natural. In addition, you won’t be able to explore the unexpected directions a conversation might head in.
Google Docs is a tool most people have access to. Packet Pushers uses Google Docs to collaborate on show outlines with guests, as it allows for real-time updating from simultaneous editors.
Scheduling is the hardest part of podcasting, as it is difficult to coordinate schedules across the multiple timezones that guests tend to live in. The more guests you invite, the harder it is to get a spot on the calendar that works for everyone. Plus, the greater the chance a last-minute cancellation will happen.
A scheduling tool like ScheduleOnce.com (not free) can be helpful.
Plan on a 90 minute block of time to record 45-60 minutes of audio. The extra time will be used to adjust everyone’s audio to a listenable quality. Gathering everyone into the conference room in Skype can also suck up precious minutes.
The simplest way to record is via Skype using a decent USB headset and a call recording plugin for Skype. Skype is a ubiquitous client with a very good audio codec. Everyone on a decent broadband connection will sound as good as their mic will allow.
A headset such as this one ensures that you don’t have to worry about mic technique. That said, getting mic placement just right can be hard, as headset mics will pick up breathing and mouth noises if positioned too closely to nostrils or moist lips. One technique to try is positioning the headset mic down by your chin or up by the tip of your nose. However, these placements could result in audio that’s too soft, as mic sensitivity varies dramatically from headset to headset. No matter what, plan to spend some time getting your mic placement right. You’re the host. It matters.
Podcasters willing to spend some money should look at the Rode Podcaster USB microphone, plus a shock mount and swing-arm mount or desktop stand. Such a setup improves your audio quality dramatically, but is not cheap.
As Mac users, we have opted to not use a Skype call recording plugin but instead Audio Hijack, which is inexpensive and extremely capable. Audio Hijack makes it easy to record the local mic on one track and all other speakers coming in via Skype on another track. Multi-track recording is a bit advanced, but can be useful when editing.
When using Skype, all participants will need to check their Skype audio/video settings that the microphone they mean to use is, in fact, selected. In addition, Skype has a wretched feature called “Automatically adjust microphone settings” that will constantly change your mic volume. Uncheck this box.
When capturing audio, record uncompressed to a format such as WAV or AIFF if your audio recording tools allows it. An uncompressed source recording gives editing software more audio resolution to work with, which can be helpful when performing tasks such as noise reduction. Even though the signal coming in from Skype is compressed, you still want to capture the audio uncompressed.
Editing can be done with a fancy (not free) tool like Logic Pro X. I used to use Adobe Audition, but that’s gotten to be pricey to keep up with, and last I knew only available via subscription. Reportedly, GarageBand works for many folks. A popular open source waveform editor is Audacity.
No matter what you choose, the most important feature you’re looking for is waveform editing. This allows you to remove coughs, too many people speaking at once, awkward silences, etc. from the recording. Other useful features that are typically available in an audio editor include volume leveling tools like normalization. Leveling the volume lessens the chance the listener has to gain-ride (constantly adjust the volume) while listening.
The editor should also be able to export the edited file to MP3 format. Packet Pushers publishes in MP3 format at 64Kbps mono. Stereo is not helpful when delivering monaural speech. 64K is strong compression, but not so strong that the result has artifacts that you might perceive as “underwater noises” in overly compressed MP3s. A one hour podcast exported to MP3 64K mono is roughly 25MB in size, manageable for just about any sort of player.
The MP3 should also be tagged with a logo embedded. Apple’s iTunes can handle this, although there are many other tagging tools available.
There’s a process to podcast publication using the Packet Pushers platform that doesn’t make sense to detail here. But in short, the MP3 is uploaded to our content distribution network. A blog post referencing the uploaded file is created on PacketPushers.net. RSS automatically takes care of notifying podcatchers about the new audio. Subscribers download it, and hopefully listen to it.
Congratulations. You’re famous.
On the Packet Pushers platform, there are already several thousand people subscribed to the Community Podcast feed. Therefore, you will immediately have a lot of listeners. However, spreading the word about this show you’ve created is still important. Use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and your own blog to let people know how they can find your show.
There is no need to be shy or feel self-conscious about letting the world know about your show. People who don’t know about your podcast will never listen to it.
If you find you enjoy podcasting and interacting with your audience, you might want to build a mailing list so that listeners can keep up with you. Packet Pushers uses MailChimp for our newsletters and other mailing lists folks have signed up for to keep up with us.
7. Plan your next show.
If you intend to podcast regularly, you need to keep your planning engine running constantly. Packet Pushers has several different podcast channels now, and we usually have 15-20 shows in the planning stages at any given time. While that would be overkill for a podcaster just getting started, the point is that you always need to be thinking about your next shows.
Creative ideas often come unbidden at inconvenient moments when you can’t spend time to develop them. Don’t lose the seed idea. Capture it so that you don’t forget it. Packet Pushers uses Trello to manage our shows from seed idea all the way through final publication. Trello is free, and allows you to establish a workflow for your shows that might work for you.
We hope this helps get you started. If you have other questions, please let us know in the comments below. We’ll update this post if we’ve left anything important out, based on your feedback.