Podcasting - step by step by step.

So, you want to be a podcaster. But you have absolutely no idea how to get started. Well, take heart, because you're in the right place. In this post I will tell you how to start broadcasting your podcast love throughout the universe.

However, while this article will show you how to do it, it doesn't mean you can automatically do it WELL. Like anything, patience and practice will go a long way toward producing a quality podcast.

First, a disclaimer. I am not a podcaster. I don't do podcasts for a living or anything like that. I am a tech guy, though, and I have spent many years building and supporting hardware and software systems, so I know how to take something apart to see how it works. That's what I've done here, I've taken it apart to see how it works and now I'm sharing what I've found.

Also, regarding the software and services mentioned here: I endorse them simply because they are the simplest to use. There may be, and probably are, better options out there for long term use. However, for the beginner these are the best I've found. I am not affiliated with any of them and they didn't pay me anything to mention them.

So, here we go!

Step One.
Have something worth podcasting.

You might think this is a no-brainer, but think for a sec. Do I really have something that I need to share? And if I need to share it, has someone already beaten me to it? Check the iTunes directory. Search on every term related to your topic. If you find a podcast on your topic, check it out. Is it any good? Can you do better? If you don't think you can, then don't. Try something else. If you're creating a podcast just to share with your friends and family, then go ahead. But if you're looking to share your podcast with the world, make sure your content is unique and worth investing the time.

Is your topic something you're passionate about? And even then, is it something you can make program after program about? If you're just going to make just one or two programs, then why bother with a podcast? If it's something you think is worth producing many episodes, then podcast it.

Also, think about how you are going to present your information. Can you do it in a way that people will find entertaining? Will someone besides you like it?

Another thing to consider: Is what you're sharing yours? Do you own it? It is possible to share music and video , but you shouldn't do so unless it's yours. Piracy is illegal. Your podcast should consist of content that is yours. (Or, public domain, which means everyone owns it.)

The best podcasts are well organized, concise, and fun. Write an outline of what you want in your podcast. If it's your voice, make some notes on what you will say. If it's music, decide what order you will put the songs in. If it's video, edit it well.

You should also consider how long your podcast is going to be. Some are only a few minutes, others are an hour or longer. Consider your audience. Will they bother with your podcast if it's long? If it's too short, will they remember it well enough to share it and talk about it?

Step Two.
Have a way to get your information onto your hard drive.

You've got your topic, you've made some notes, decided on what is in and what is out, and you're ready to go. So how do you get your voice, music, whatever onto your computer? Simple. Record it or upload it.

If you don't know how to upload something to your computer, then you need more help than I am able to provide. Maybe a good beginner's course at your local community college is in order. We will discuss recording.

To record, you're going to need hardware. Most computers do not come with built in hardware for recording, and even if they did, you will probably need something better than what you've got.

If you're going to record your voice, get a good microphone. Not just A microphone, a GOOD one. If your podcast becomes popular, you'll want to invest in a professional quality microphone with a "pop" screen, but for now, you can get a good one at Radio Shack.

You'll probably want one that plugs into the USB port on your computer, since this is the easiest way to get your voice onto your hard drive.

If you have other audio sources that you'd like to record on your computer, check with your local retailer for ways to connect your audio to your computer. There are many players available that have a USB connector that will allow you to quickly convert your records, tapes, and other audio to digital.

Once you have your device(s), follow its documentation to set it up properly and have it working before proceeding.

Step Three.

Now you need something that will take your voice, or other audio that you input with your hardware, and create a file out of it. You may also want to combine voice and music to create transitions and so forth. You need a recorder. Just like the cassette recorders of yester-year, a digital recorder will capture your voice or music or whatever and digitize it for you.

There are many good programs that turn your computer into a digital recorder. One of the best is Audacity. Simple enough for the beginner, it offers enough features to do some pretty cool stuff. And the price is right: free. With Audacity, creating a digital audio file is as simple as starting the program, pushing the big red record button, inputting your audio, pushing the stop button, and saving the file. You can create an MP3 directly from the program and have it ready to upload in minutes. You can also take music or any other audio you can get into your computer and mix it produce really professionally sounding programs.

In the process of writing this I realized that it may be useful to give a tutorial on creating a good podcast with Audacity. Something with lead-in and maybe background music.... something more than just "play this, stop, play this, stop", something professional sounding. I will write about that in my next blog post, but knowing HOW to do it and DOING IT RIGHT are two different things. You will want to review and re-review your work to get the result you want. Patience and practice will get you a lot further than a tutorial. But look for that in my next post.

Whether you use Audacity or some other recording program, the object is to create a file from your audio. Think of the file as a virtual CD (or tape, if you're old enough to remember those!). Ideally, you'll want to make an MP3 file, since this is the best format for podcasts. If your program doesn't allow you to save it as an MP3, do a search for ways to create an MP3 from the file type you have.

Step Four.

Now you have your MP3. Your podcast episode is done. Great. Now to make it available to the world.

This is where things get tricky. It's important not only to have your podcast file
available, but to have it available in the right way. There are many free services, such as Windows Sky Drive, that allow you to store and share your files. And they're great. But they are not practical for doing podcasts. Why? The issue is the difference between accessing your files DIRECTLY and INDIRECTLY.

It's not always easy to know when you are accessing a file directly online and when you are "going through channels". However, normally, you can tell by looking at the URL, the address of the file you are accessing. If you click on a link and your browser takes you to an address that looks like this:


Then you are most likely accessing it directly. "myfilehome.com" being the name of the server and "importantfile.mp3" being the file you are accessing. However, if you click on a link and your browser takes you to an address that looks like this:


then, apart from being an address that is nearly impossible to remember, this file is being accessed INdirectly. In this case, the bbx5qw is a key that is fed to the directory "bay" on the server "livefilestore.com". The long impossible string is a virtual folder, possibly created just for you, used only to serve up a copy of the file and not give you access to the file itself. Other servers do things differently (and this may not be the way this particular address works, but I have seen others done this way. It's just an example.) but the real goal is to shield the direct address of the file to protect it from those who might try to hack their way into the server.

So while free services are great as a way to back up your files online, they are not practical at all for podcasting. You will need a place to access your files directly. The absolute BEST way to do this is to pay for web hosting. If you get serious about podcasting, you will definitely want to do this. However, just starting out, this may not be practical for you. Later, I will talk about a service called "Podbean" that will help you with this step and other steps as well.

Also, you may try using "archive.org", they allow you to store your file and access it directly. However, the intent behind archive.org is to collect "open source" audio and video so you shouldn't upload anything that isn't 100% your work and you should expect others to access it and use it.

In any case, you need to have a permanent direct link to your file. For beginning podcasters, I strongly suggest just using Podbean. It's free and helps you circumvent many problems you will encounter trying to do it yourself.

Step Five.
Feeding your file.

Now that your podcast file is home, you need to feed it. No, not like you feed your dog. You are going to FEED it TO people. This is very simple to do, but not so simple if you want to do it yourself.

Podcasting utilizes a form of RSS. RSS stands for "Really Simple Syndication". RSS is everywhere. If you are reading this blog, you are utilizing RSS. It would take forever to explain every possible use of RSS, so let me just cover the basics and how it relates to podcasting.

In simplest terms, RSS involves a "container" and the stuff inside the container. Think of it like a picture frame and the ability to change the picture any time you want. Then, add 20 million cameras all pointing at your frame that are broadcasting your picture to other frames all over the world. When you change your picture, it changes in all the other frames at the same time. The owners of those frames don't have to get a copy of your picture to update theirs because they have direct access to yours.

A podcast, then, is like a wall of frames. Each frames contains a different episode of your podcast. The cameras are pointing at the whole wall and let users access each picture, one at a time.

Kinda cool, right? You can also think of podcasts as TV channels. Each channel offers their own programs, which would be your episodes. The difference is, you don't have to wait for one program to end before going to the next one, or, likewise, you can go back to a previous one that you liked without losing the new one.

Simple enough, right? So what is the mechanism behind this? For RSS to work, your frame, or wall of frames, is an .xml file. XML stands for eXtensible Markup Language. In some ways it is similar to HTML, which is what makes up web pages, but in other ways, it's completely different.

If you are interesting in learning XML, there are many great tutorials online. It's not important to know it to produce a podcast. All that is important is that you have an XML file that defines your podcast. You can either try to write one yourself, which is possible, but hard to get exactly right, or you can have one written for you.

This brings us again to Podbean. Besides hosting your file, Podbean will also produce your feed file automatically. Alternately, you can use Blogger, the service I use for this blog, to create a podcast. For details on how to do that, CLICK HERE. A third option is to have the file created for you and then put it online somewhere. (The same rules apply as with your audio file, it needs to be accessed directly, not indirectly.) You can use this site to create your XML file that will define your podcast and present your first episode. The file will then need to be edited for each episode after that. As an appendix to this blog post, I will include an example of an XML file for a podcast and you will be able to see what you might be able to do to add more episodes.

Step Six.
Share your podcast.

You've recorded an awesome first episode, you've uploaded it, you've created an RSS feed file to define your podcast, and you've got that set up somewhere. Now what? Well, basically, you're done. At this point, you have a podcast. Congratulations. The End.

Just kidding. What you want to do now is share your podcast with the world. You do this by sharing the link to your RSS feed file. People then take that link and plug it into their podcast software (iTunes or equivalent), and start downloading your episodes.

The easiest way to do this is to get your podcast into the iTunes directory. To do this, follow the directions HERE. I haven't done this, but my understanding is you need to have a few episodes under your belt before iTunes will get it set up for you.

Otherwise, just give people the link to your RSS feed file. People can then manually add your podcast to their iTunes or other program. Every program is different, and, indeed, different versions of iTunes are different. Check your program's help file for details on how to manually add a feed.

If you are using Podbean, they will set up a link to your podcast on your podcast management page that, when clicked, will open iTunes and add your podcast. If you are using Blogger, simply use the link to your blog plus "/feeds/posts/default", as in "http://forgivenlikedavid.blogspot.com/feeeds/posts/default".

There are places online to share your podcasts as well. Podcast Alley, something something...... Some of these have ranking systems that help you get your podcast out there.

That's it! It does take a little technical know-how to do it, but with some patience and a little effort, you can get your podcast out there for the world to hear!

Appendix 1.
An XML RSS feed file.

Here is a feed file and it's parts. To create your own, edit the blue parts. The red are parts that are important as is and should not be changed. The black parts are the descriptors and are not part of the file.

<rss version="2.0"> (Defines the file as RSS.)
<channel> (Opens the "channel" section of this file.)
<title>Podcast Title (This is the name of your podcast "channel")</title>
<link>http://www.websiteforpodcast.com (If you have a blog or other website for your podcast, put it here. If you use Podbean, put your Podbean address here.)</link>
<description>This is the coolest podcast ever. (Describe your podcast here. Be concise, but descriptive. iTunes and other directories will display this. It's your chance to say what this is all about.)</description>
<docs>http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/tech/rss</docs> (I'm not sure why you need this, but you do, so just don't touch it.)
<language>English (This is the language your podcast is in, even if your website and this file are in another language.) </language>
<copyright>Copyright ©2009 Most Awesome Stuff (This can be whatever you want. It's your chance to claim it as your own.)</copyright>
<category>Podcasting (What best describes your podcast? Music? Tech? This can be whatever you want.)</category>
<image> (Opens the image section of this file. This is where you define the image that will appear in iTunes and on iPods.)
<url>http://www.websiteforpodcast.com/logo.jpg (This is any image you want. Just be sure you have a direct URL.)</url>
<title>Title of the image (I know, makes no sense, but you need it.)</title>
<link>http://www.websiteforpodcast.com (Your website again. I know...) </link>
<width>300 (Width of your image in pixels. 300 is best for iTunes.)</width>
<height>300 (Height of you image in pixels. 300 is best for iTunes.)</height>
</image> (Closes the image section of this file.)
(These 'tags' are necessary when submitting to iTunes.)
<itunes:author>Your Name (Or the name of your company or whatever you want.)</itunes:author>
<itunes:subtitle>Subtitle of your podcast. (Very short, but whatever you want.)</itunes:subtitle>
<itunes:summary>This is the coolest podcast ever. (Just like the description above.)</itunes:summary>
<itunes:keywords>podcast cool groovy gnarly (Any one word categories that might define your podcast. Put in as many as you want, separated by spaces.) </itunes:keywords>
<itunes:explicit>no (Or 'yes' if your podcast uses "R" or highter rated language or covers "R" or higher rated topics.)</itunes:explicit>
<itunes:image href="http://www.websiteforpodcast.com/logo.jpg (Same as the image URL above)"/>
<itunes:owner> (Opens the "owner" section.)
<itunes:name>Your Name (Same as "author" above.)</itunes:name>
<itunes:email>youremail@yourdomain.com (Your email address so the iTunes people know where to reach you.)</itunes:email>
</itunes:owner> (Closes the owner section.)
<itunes:category text="Podcast">
<itunes:category text="Coolness">
(Put as many of these in as you like. These are the categories the iTunes people might list your podcast is. You can use the same words you used for keywords if you want.)

<item> (Opens an 'item' section of this file. NOTE: The 'channel section is still open, do not close it until the end. Also, you will need one 'item' section for every episode of your podcast that is available for download.)
<title>Episode 1: The awesomeness of podcasting. (This can be anything you wish.)</title>
<link>http://www.websiteforpodcast.com/episode1.mp3 (The web link for your episode.)</link>
<description>The description of your podcast episode. (Whatever you wish, but just for the episode, not the channel.)</description>
<author>Your Name or Email (Or the name or email of whoever made this episode if you have others doing it.)</author>
<pubDate>Sun, 27 Nov 2005 18:17:32 -0800 (It doesn't have to be this precise, but this sets the date you made this episode.)</pubDate>
<category>Podcast (yes, you have to set it for the episode, too.)</category>

This next tag is the big one. You have to have it right or nothing will work.

<enclosure url="http://www.websiteforpodcast.com/episode1.mp3 (This is the direct URL of your podcast file. It MUST be a direct link and not indirect.)" length="110039585 (Length, in bytes, of the file)" type="audio/mpeg (Normally, for an audio podcast, you'd leave this. If it's video, put in 'video/MP4'.)">

Just like the 'channel' section, you have to do it all again for iTunes.

<itunes:author>Your Name</itunes:author>
<itunes:subtitle>Most awesome podcast ever.</itunes:subtitle>
<itunes:summary>We talk about how awesome we are.</itunes:summary>
<itunes:duration>11:00 (in minutes)</itunes:duration>
</item> (Closes the item section. Remember, to add another episode, you need another item section.)
</channel> (Closes the channel section. All the item sections should be before this.)
</rss> (Closes the file.)

Save your file as an .xml file. Upload it anywere you have a direct URL. Share that direct URL to give people access to your podcast.

Appendix 2.
About Podbean.


I endorse this service only because it's the simplest I've found for the beginning podcaster. I don't use it myself, except for what little experimenting I've done with it, neither am I affiliated with them in any way. There may be other services out there, but this is simply the first, simplest tool I've found.

To get started with Podbean you will need to create an account. Their basic service is free, but for more advanced options you will need to pay. Their free level seems ok, but once your podcast starts increasing in popularity, you will run out of bandwidth. Don't commit to the paid service until you're sure you can maintain it.

For more information, go to podbean.com.

*All images, though found on public websites such as Flickr et al., are copyright of their respective owners and are used under "Fair Use" laws in the United States. If you are the owner of any of these images and do not want them used, please contact the author.