Around six months back, my brother and I launched the Writer & Geek Show, a podcast where we geek out on topics from science, tech, history and culture. We did this because we wanted our conversations to extend beyond the confines of our rooms and provide value and information to people who are interested in these topics.
Podcast is an on demand media streaming and download. As of today there are hundreds of thousands of podcasts around the world. Many businesses do podcasts to establish their excellence in their domain. Others do it for fun. But in past few years, podcasting has become very popular and is considered one of the most influencial channel to promote knowledge and business.
Advantages of Podcast
Podcast has various advantage over other forms of media like video and written content. Cliff Ravenscraft, podcast producer and instructor, list down the advantages:
- No screen time required: An average person spends many hours a day doiung things that do not directly contribute to their productivity. For example, driving to and from office, getting ready, taking shower etc. Though we have powerful mediums like video and written content like blogs, these require you to be in front of a computer screen to consume them. A podcast is audio file for which you just need to lend your ears. So, you can listen to a podcast while driving or while doing other things in your daily routine.
- Smaller haystack: Popular podcaster and podcast instructor Cliff Ravenscraft mentiones that Podcast on a specific topic has a smaller “haystack”. That means that there are less podcasts than there are blogs and YouTube videos. There are just over 300,000 audio podcasts in this world.
- On demand: Podcast is on demand. You don’t have to specifically tune into a podcast channel at a particular time. But podcasts are available on demand. You can download an episode and listen to them when you want wherever you want.
- Easier to produce than video: Producing video is a lot of effort compared to creating an audio podcast. You have less technical things to deal with and also you don’t need to worry about how you look while recording a podcast!
- Accessibility: Access to smartphone ensures that you have access to a podcast all the time. It is easy for you to install a free podcast app in Android or iPhone and subscribe to any podcast. Opening up a world of wonderful podcasts.
- Offers a loyal audience:
Equipment and Softwares
Podcasting requires some basic equipement other than a computer for uploading your episodes to your media host. In this section we shall take a look at the different equipments required and also see the different variants of each of these based on the budget.
Microphones are one of the primary requirements for recording a podcast. Though a microphone is strictly not necessary, you need it in one form or the other for recording. It can be just the microphone on your phone or iPad or an expensive high quality recording microscope.
If you are really on a tight budget and do not want to invest in expensive microphones or just want to test if podcasting is for you before you start investing, inexpensive headsets or your phone microphone would do but at the expense of quality. Now, if you made up your mind to get a real microphone, there are few different kind of microphones. Broadly, they can be classified as Condenser Microphones and Dynamic Microphones.
Condenser Microphones: Condenser Microphones have an electrically-charged diaphragm assembly which forms a sound-sensitive capacitor. Sound waves hit a very thin metal or metal-coated-plastic diaphragm and result in vibration. Condenser microphones are usually very sensitive and catch lot of background noise. Unless you have sound proofing done to your room, these are not very well suited for podcasting. They also tend to be a bit more expensice and fragile. We used Samson Meteor mic a condenser mic, to record first few episodes of out podcast. Since we had only one mic, we had to keep it on the table trying to record both our voices. Since Condenser mic has a higher sensitivity, it was all good. But this also meant that I could hear the spoon falling in my neighbour’s house. So we decided to abondon it and go with dynamic mics. I live in a relatively quiet area, but it still caught a lot of ambient noise which wasn’t helping.
Dynamic Microphones: Dynamic microphones have a diaphragm coil assembly which forms a sound-driven electrical generator. Sound waves strike a thin plastic diaphragm which vibrates. A coil of wire is attached to the behind the diaphragm and vibrates with it. The voice coil in a magnetic field created by a permanent magnet. The motion of the voice coil in this magnetic field generates the electrical signal corresponding to the sound. Dynamic microphones have simple construction and are economical and rugged. They can provide excellent sound quality and do not catch background noise as much a condenser microphones. Once we decided to move over to dynmic mic from condenser, there was a remarkable improvement in our sound quality as most of the background noise was rejected. I got a couple of Knox KN-UM01 XLR/USB mics imported from US and it was the best decision I made.
Microphones are also classified according to the way they connect to your computer as USB Microphones and XLR Microphones. Let’s take a look at each of these.
USB Microphones: USB microphones can be a condenser microphone or an dynamic microphone that connects to computer directly through a USB port. This type of micropphone is typically easier to set up and can connect directly to the computer without a mixer or audio interface. This is popular with solo podcasters where they can just directly connect it to a laptop or computer and start recording. Overall they have a more “real” reporduction of the sound but you need a well sound proofed room to be able to use this effectively.
XLR Microphones: XLR microphones have XLR ports instead of USB port. These kind of mics require an audio interface or mixer of some sort to connect to computer. XLR mics usually produce better quality sound than a normal USB microphone. The Knox mic that we use has both USB and XLR connectors.
A recording device captures the sound from the microphone and converts the signal to mp3 or wav format. A computer can be the recording device through USB or line in or it can be a dedicated recorder. Some examples for digital recorders are Zoom series (H1 through H6) and Roland recorders.
- Audio Interface
- Recording Software
A mixer is a device that is used for mixing in different channels of audio and feeding them to a digital recorder or computer. There can be software based or can be a hardware. During the early days of my podcasts, I used a software called Voicemeeter which was a mixer as you can see in the image below. Now I use a Yamaha MG10XU mixer which is a very versatile hardware mixer.
If a hardware mixer is out of your budget, there are few software mixers too. One of the most awesome software mixer that I’ve come across is called VoiceMeeter. It also allows you to connect two or more mics to your computer’s usb port and record simultaneously.
Voicemeeter runs in your computer and helps in adjusting the various parameters on the input signal. I used voicemeeter for few of my episodes and the sound quaity was amazing.
Audio interface/Sound card
Apart from using mixers, audio recording can be done using audio interfaces as well. These are usually used for music production and provide a way to interface your microphone with PC or Mac. Essencially they connect your recording device (mic) to computer without all the bells and whistles of a traditional mixer
Once you hook up your recording device with your computer, you need some sort of software to be able to record. I use Audacity which is one of the best open source and free softwares out there. Audacity can even be used for professional editing and has a very good arsenal of editing effects and plugins. By default it does not let you export to mp3 but this is taken care easily by installing a plugin called lame for Audacity, yeah that is what it is called
But AUdacity is not the only one. If you are on a Mac, you can use Garageband or you can pay and get a subscription of Adobe Audition.
In this section we’ll talk about the various platforms on which you can host, serve and promote your podcast. Basically any podcast requires a website where listeners can find the episodes, listen to them and download them if required and also read the show notes and other information related to your podcast, a hosting provider where you host the audio files which is usually different server than the one that serves your website and lastly a channel to promote and make your podast available to listenrs around the world.
Website: You almost always need a website to publish your podcast. You website; is where your listners can listen to your episodes, read more information in the show notes and more information about the podcast or about you. Show notes are notes that accompany an episode which may have more information about the episode, timestamp and maybe additional links to other sources. My podcast website is built using a static site generator called Jekyll but WordPress is one of the most popular choices. Websites are hosted on servers which are separate from the Audio hosting servers since audio hosting requires higher bandwidth.
Audio Hosting: The podcast episodes in the form of mp3 files are hosted on audio hosting servers. There are various service providers like Libsyn, Simplecast, Sound Cloud, Art19 etc. that host audio files. These are separate servers from your website server due to high bandwidth requirement for audio hosting and most of the website server privders do not allow media hosting. Once uploaded, these files are linked on the website so that a listner can listen or download them as needed.
Publishing Channels: Once you have the podcast recorded and hosted, you need a way to channel it towards the audience. iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify etc are few of the channels that are used to distribute podcasts across the world. These websites accept the RSS feeds from the podcast hosting sites and then enable users to subscribe to the podcasts and download the episodes.