Podcasting is all the rage these days. MP3 players are ubiquitous from teenagers on skateboards to old people on elliptical trainers in the gym. Stationed overseas, I became more and more weary of the poor content on AFN and finally purchased an MP3 player so I could listen to better.
Because the Apple iPod quickly attained a position of dominance in the MP3 player industry and Apple came up with a great, simple way for users to listen to content, the process of “broadcasting” audio and video content via Web download has come to be known as Podcasting. This article will cover, soup to nuts, what podcasting is and how you, your church, or your organization can both use and/or publish your own Podcasts.
What is a podcast?
Wikipedia defines podcasting as the following:
Podcasting is the distribution of audio or video files, such as radio programs or music videos, over the Internet using either RSS or Atom syndication for listening on mobile devices and personal computers. A podcast is a web feed of audio or video files placed on the Internet for anyone to download or subscribe. Podcasters’ websites also may offer direct download of their files, but the subscription feed of automatically delivered new content is what distinguishes a podcast from a simple download or real-time streaming (see below). Usually, the podcast features one type of “show” with new episodes either sporadically or at planned intervals such as daily, weekly, etc. Besides that there are podcast networks that feature multiple shows on the same feed. Podcasting’s essence is about creating content (audio or video) for an audience that wants to listen when they want, where they want, and how they want. Subscribing to podcasts allows a user to collect programs from a variety of sources for listening or viewing off-line, whenever and wherever is convenient. In contrast, traditional broadcasting provides only one source at a time, and the time is broadcaster-specified. While podcasts are gaining ground on personal sites and blogs, they are not yet widespread. One easy way to find podcasts is to use the Podcast Directory in iTunes; these automatically-updated podcasts can then be synchronized to a portable multimedia device, such as an MP3 player, for off-line listening.
How to Podcast – Equipment and Software
There are a number of ways to record your own podcast. Remember, all that is being talked about here is recording audio (or video for others). The process of recording an MP3 file is no different for podcasting than any other process. Some might think that since it’s called a podcast that the process is somehow different. It is the same.
If you are recording from home and publishing your own musings on life, religion, politics, etc then you simply need a computer with an audio card (do they sell them without one anymore), a microphone, recording software, and encoding software. If you already have nice recording software then the odds are that the encoding software is built in to the recording software. I’ll add that you should find a quiet place to perform the recording in case it’s not apparently obvious to the casual observer. A popular free recording software program is Audacity.
A recommended method for a Church, organization, or individual that has the budget is the use of a digital voice recorder. I recommend this as the easiest, fastest, and most economical method of getting your sermons on the site. Today’s digital voice recorders are relatively inexpensive and because they are portable, they can record conveniently in any setting (church, special meetings, open-air, etc). The recorded audio can be quickly transferred to a computer and then converted to the MP3 format suitable for Podcasting. You can use a digital voice recorder with a lapel mic or a line-in from your existing sound system to record. You then transfer the audio as a WAV file to your computer. Below are some examples of digital voice recorders sold by Amazon:
Encoding and Saving the Podcast
Once the audio file is on your computer (either recorded via microphone or using a digital voice recorder), then it may need to be encoded to the MP3 format. Some digital voice recorders allow one to record directly to MP3. Most audio recording is done to the WAV format, however, as it is lossless. MP3 encoding converts the audio format to MP3 that can compress the file dramatically based on how much sound fidelity one is willing to sacrifice to save space. Fidelity is typically measured by the encoding rate and the number of bits used to encode. The faster the encoding rate and the more bits used to encode will produce the highest quality audio (but will also produce very large files). CD audio is encoded at 44 KHz (44,000 cycles per second) with 16 bits per cycle (this is what is meant by 16 bit audio). A sermon or any other spoken recording that does not require such fidelity can be encoded at a much lower rate and even at just 8 bits and still have acceptable quality. The choice is yours – experiment with what you like but if your web hosting storage space is limited then you might want to stick with lower rates/bits to produce smaller files. My general rule of thumb is that if I want a nice sounding music audio file without noticeable compression then I use 128kbps MP3 encoding, for just a voice recording 32kpbs is acceptable. I utilize a program called dBPowerAmp to convert MP3 to MP3 or Wav to MP3 (or a variety of other formats). I’ll usually record at 128 kbps MP3 and then re-encode to 32 kbps before placing a podcast on the web. A 32 kbps MP3 file typically takes up about 10 MB in size.
A Useful Naming Convention
When you name your MP3 file, use a name that will help you organize your podcasts. For example, a naming convention I utilize is: YYYY-MM-DD-Title-of-Recording.mp3 (for example: “2008-06-14-Cut-to-the-Heart(Acts2).mp3”).
Be sure to fill out the MP3 ID3 tags after you save your MP3 file. ID3 tags store information about your audio file like: song title, artist (you), and genre. These tags are really important, since this is the information that will be displayed when listeners play your MP3 file in a normal audio player. I recommend a freeware program called MP3Tag for this action.
Upload your Podcast
When your podcast is finished, you need to put it online. If you already have access to a web hosting service, just FTP your MP3 file (podcast) there. As you add more and more podcasts you’ll want to organize them into directories on your web hosting account.
Create your Podcast Feed
With your podcast online, you now need to help the world find it and listen to it. A podcast basically consists of an MP3 file and a text file called an RSS feed. RSS stands for “Really Simple Syndication,” and the file tells podcatchers (e.g. iTunes) how to find and get your podcast. An RSS feed also lets people subscribe to your podcast and automatically get updates of your new content.
To create your RSS feed, open an html editor or a simple text editor, such as Microsoft Word or Notepad. Copy and paste the code below, and then replace all the red text with your own podcast information. (Note: In my WordPress How-To’s I intend to show how to create a site in WordPress, which includes a Podpress plugin to automate the below. This process is for those that desire to create their site as a standard HTML site.)
<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”utf-8″?>
<rss xmlns:itunes=”http://www.itunes.com/dtds/podcast-1.0.dtd” version=”2.0″>
<title>Your Church, City, State</title>
<itunes:image href=”http://www.yourserver.com/YourPodcastPicture.jpg” /> <language>en-us</language>
<copyright>Year Your Church Name</copyright>
<description>The preaching and teaching of Your Church, City, STate.</description>
<itunes:subtitle>Preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ</itunes:subtitle>
<itunes:summary>Our Church is devoted to the teaching and the ministry of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. At Central Baptist Church we preach and fix our eyes upon Christ Jesus, the author and finisher of our salvation. </itunes:summary>
<itunes:category text=”Religion and Spirituality”>
<itunes:category text=”Christianity” />
<itunes:keywords>Your Church Name, City, other keywords</itunes:keywords>
<title>This is just a test</title>
<description>A description of your podcast episode</description>
<pubDate>Thu, 16 Jun 2005 5:00:00 PST</pubDate>
<enclosure url=”http://www.yourserver.com/podcast_file.mp3” length=”3905” type=”audio/mpeg” />
A few important details:
“PubDate” is the time you last updated and published the podcast.
“Length” is the size of the file in bytes. On a Windows computer, you can find this by going to the MP3 file in Windows Explorer and right-clicking on the file. Select “Properties.” The exact size of your MP3 is under “Size.” On a Mac, select the file and click “Apple+I” to see the file information. The file size will be shown under “Size.” Enter in this number without commas.
Note: Every time you add another podcast episode, you will need to create another podcast episode, or “item.” Copy all the code from <item> to </item> and paste this text after the last </item>. Now, update all the blue text with information for the new podcast episode.
Some other podcast directories have created their own code extensions to standard RSS. One example is the iTunes directory. For more details on adding iTunes’ additional code, visit the iTunes RSS specifications. The above RSS code is generic and will work with and support commonly used standards, including iTunes’.
After you’ve made these changes, save the file in plain text format and with the file extension “xml” (for example, “Podcast.xml”). Upload this file to your web host, just as you did earlier for your MP3 file.
Advertise your Podcast
Finally, share your podcast so that others can listen to it. List your RSS feed on podcast directories such as Yahoo! Podcasts, Odeo, iTunes, and Podcast Alley. Make sure you also tell people what the podcast is about by entering some genre and content categories. This will help listeners find your podcast more easily.
In addition, on your Church, organizational, or personal website you can create a link to the XML file that you created above for your RSS feed. You can create a simple text link or make a graphical link so that visitors can easily subscribe to your podcast from your web page. Ligonier Ministries has an xml link in the lower right page of their radio broadcast page. Subscription to their podcast is as easy as dragging the Podcast graphic into the podcasts folder in iTunes.