IN THIS CHAPTER
Trying out inexpensive software
Going for broke: Big-budget software
Creating an RSS feed
Finding a host for your podcast
After you have your recording equipment in place, plugged in, and running, it’s time to take a look at audio-editing software packages. These applications help you take that block of audio marble and chisel the podcast hidden within it.
As with digital photo editors, video-editing software, and word processors, digital audio workstations (DAWs) come in all sizes and all costs, ranging from free to roughly an entire paycheck (or three). Like any software package, the lower the cost, the simpler the product and the easier it is to understand, navigate, and use for recording. However, as the software grows more complex (and expensive), the features that offer professional-level results become abundantly clear. In this chapter, we run down some of the audio recording/editing software that may be right for you.
Whoever said “You can’t get something for nothing …” didn’t know about podcasting. It’s amazing what kind of production you can create with little or no monetary investment.
Audacity (shown in Figure 3-1) is a piece of software that quickly became a podcaster’s best friend. It’s easy to see why: It’s free, simple to use, and safe to download. It’s available at
https://www.audacityteam.org and provides a common starting point for new podcasters.
Designed by the open source community who simply wanted to “give back to the Internet” something cool, Audacity is designed for a variety of audio capabilities such as importing, mixing, editing, and exporting audio and has earned a reputation for being the must-have tool for recording voice straight off a computer. It’s also compatible with Windows, Macintosh, and Linux. (We want to send a big thank you to the volunteers who went out of their way to show that yes, software can be made available for any platform, provided the creators are driven enough to make it happen!)
Audacity is an excellent piece of software for the basics, but what if you desire more control over the capabilities and features of your audio-editing package? Are you looking for more recording options, additional audio filters, built-in multitrack recording, and pre-recorded music loops? (Gads, what some people will do to set a mood or a tone for a podcast.)
Cakewalk by Bandlab (
https://www.bandlab.com/products/cakewalk), formerly known as Cakewalk’s SONAR, is a free download of a fully loaded DAW exclusively for Windows.
Cakewalk (shown in Figure 3-2) offers its users some serious goodies:
Cakewalk allows users to record, edit, mix, and produce audio compositions, whether it is an original score for your podcast, a continuous music mix, or just you and your own personal soundtrack. Between its easy audio-editing features and Cakewalk’s collection of original audio samples (called Cakewalk Loopmasters Content Collection), it’s a breeze to set your own themes and special effects.
Cakewalk by Bandlab is another free audio package for the Windows user looking to go beyond Audacity, but what about Mac users? For people still in the minority of the computer world, it’s always a frustration to hear software developers say, “No, we won’t be making this product available for Mac users.” Sometimes Mac users seem to be denied the coolest toys and utilities because they just aren’t offered for reasons not revealed. (Maybe a penalty for thinking differently, but still … .)
Apple’s creative crew understands this injustice and thusly came a software gem in 2004 that made it more than cool to be a Mac user, especially one who’s into podcasting. Since the early days of the iPod to today, Mac-using podcasters continue to create audio productions with it — GarageBand.
With hundreds of music loops that can easily switch from one instrument to another, GarageBand (shown in Figure 3-3) makes royalty-free music easy to compose, special effects a breeze to create, and podcast episodes effortless from conception to content. Many of the loops are editable and, with a bit of tweaking, can set the right mood for your podcast. GarageBand has a few new additions:
But perhaps the most amazing aspect of GarageBand, as reported by Ars Technica at
https://bit.ly/AT2017-GB back in 2017, is that GarageBand is now free for anyone using a Mac OS or iOS device.
GarageBand's most appealing asset (apart from the fact that it is free now) is its hundreds of sampled instruments available in loops. You can easily edit and splice together these loops with other loops to create original music beds of whatever length you choose. Prerecorded beds range from Asian drum ensembles to Norwegian Folk Fiddles to Blues Harmonica to Emotional Piano reminiscent of films like The Fault in Our Stars and Sense and Sensibility.
GarageBand also provides a capability — with many (not all) of the samplings — to create your own musical theme. Sure, some instruments may sound better than others, but you might — with a bit of trial and error — create an original melody that serves as the best royalty-free intro and exit for your podcast.
GarageBand is easy to navigate and understand (no, not master, but definitely understand) within a short span of time. Plenty of terrific books are available for getting comfortable with all its nuances. As for the two of us, we cannot praise this application enough, especially with so many expansion packs available that add instruments, riffs, and loops to your GarageBand (always updated and stocked at the App Store). This unassuming software offers a lot to the podcaster.
If you’re lucky enough to have unlimited funds and resources to build your podcasting studio, this section on software is for you. A majority of podcasts are working on the bare-bones plan, and so far the investment in the equipment we’ve recommended (in Chapter 2) is for a budget of under $500 — provided you feel like making an investment in a professional microphone, mixing board, or software.
The difference is in the sound you can get. For the corporate entity, government agency, or professional organization venturing into podcasting, sound quality is crucial as your reputation and experience are now being “socially tested.” Do you not bother with the details, or do you raise the quality bar? Commercial podcasting demands nothing less than the best in audio quality, and that is what investments in professional software bring to your production. From noise reduction to production parameters required for services like Audible and Spotify, high-end audio software gives you full control over every aspect of the audio you’re recording.
At one time, a favorite software application was CoolEdit. But when Adobe Systems purchased it and repackaged the software as Adobe Audition (shown in Figure 3-4), it got even better. Audition (
www.adobe.com/products/audition.html) is offered as a standalone for $20.99 per month or as part of the Adobe Creative Cloud membership for $52.99 per month. Audition’s features are nothing short of awesome:
What makes Audition so appealing to professionally engineered productions such as P.G. Holyfield’s epic Murder at Avedon Hill (
https://bit.ly/Holyfield-MAAH) and the ongoing Secret World Chronicle (
http://secretworldchronicle.com) is how it gives you dominion over pitch, wavelength, time-stretching, background-noise removal, and Dolby 5.1 stereo output, making this DAW a staple in the digital audio industry.
Audition runs on Windows and Macintosh platforms. If you know your podcast needs a professional polish and you are ready to make the investment and the jump to higher grade software, Audition may be the option for you.
Apple Logic Pro X (
http://www.apple.com/logic-pro/) is another software package in the industry that is carving out a place for itself with professionals. Designed to be the next step after GarageBand, Logic Pro X (shown in Figure 3-5) has been given features built for Mac-based podcasters:
Apple Logic Pro X offers incredible options for the audio professional and the up-and-coming podcaster. For $200USD from the App Store, you can accomplish a lot with it. Tee does, and swears by it.
The hardware (mics and mixers) and the software (GarageBand and Audacity) are necessary to record audio and create the podcast media file. That’s the fun and creative part. But to make your recording a podcast, you need to get your hands dirty on the tedious and technical parts and add one more three-letter acronym to your vocabulary: RSS.
Since the first edition in 2005, we’ve helped a huge number of podcasters get started — and in nearly every case, the RSS step is the biggest source of confusion. So, there’s a lot to RSS, which we can explain …
XML (eXtensible Markup Language) is a markup language like HTML (the building blocks of the Internet), and RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is a file format built on XML. XML’s purpose is to allow systems such as computers, network devices, and other gadgets to exchange information in a structured format. The RSS file is that bit of information that the podcaster publishes so others can use their podcatching software to check for new content automatically.
If that somewhat technical explanation doesn’t do it for you, try this old school analogy about deliverable content. Consider journalists for publications like The Washington Post, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, or Wired Magazine as authorities on what is happening within your passions in life. Whether the subject matter covers Apple computers, the Boston Red Sox, or The Beatles, you know these journalists are trusted experts in their fields, or maybe they are fellow fans just as passionate as you are. These journalists, if they are truly worth the ink used in their articles, are always creating new and unique content with every new issue or publication.
What if you want that content? Well, you got options. You can check the newsstand daily. Maybe it’s there, or maybe it is sold out on that particular day so you come back another time to see if the latest issue is there. Another way to get that content is to subscribe to the magazine or newspaper, and the content is delivered to your doorstep.
Here the role of the magazine is filled by the media created by the podcaster, and the RSS is the delivery mechanism that sends your podcast to people who subscribe. Just like you would with a magazine or newspaper.
No school like the old school, huh?
As a podcaster, your job is to make sure you keep the RSS updated and current each time you post a new podcast media file. Lucky for you (and us too), plenty of software solutions make this step a breeze.
If you’re looking to spend the least amount of time hand-coding an RSS feed, look no further than starting up a blog. Easy to set up and often free of charge, blogs make the process of generating and updating RSS feeds insanely easy by doing it automatically.
You can choose from dozens of blog software packages (also called engines), each with a variety of bells and whistles that are designed to make your updates (including your RSS feed) as easy and/or customizable as possible. For a crash course in how blogs do what they do, check out Blogging For Dummies, 7th Edition by Amy Lupold Bair. Her book can help you choose which blog engine might be right for you. Meanwhile, here are a few options we prefer:
http://wordpress.org): Perhaps the most popular blogging solution in the writers’ eyes, WordPress has many advantages over other free blogs. Not only is it easy to install and get running, but it also supports podcasting out of the box. When you incorporate the PowerPress plug-in (available at
https://wordpress.org/plugins/powerpress/), podcasting takes on a whole new level of “user friendly” options. There are also thousands of WordPress and user-developed templates that can be used as is or customized to fit your specific look and feel for your podcast. Oh, and it’s free. To make incorporation into your website seamless, many hosting companies like DreamHost (
http://dreamhost.com) and GoDaddy (
http://www.godaddy.com) offer packages that have WordPress preinstalled or installed with a one-click option. Figure 3-6 shows the WordPress signup page.
If you choose to go the WordPress route, pay particular attention to the web address. There’s Wordpress.org and Wordpress.com. The .org flavor is where you can download the software and install it on your server of choice — this option involves a bit of technical work. The .com site has the software already installed and you just configure it; however, the configuration options are a bit more limited.
There are two basic options regarding where to put your blog, and prices and products vary from vendor to vendor. The nonhosted model blog is where you get to choose the blog engine, a great option if there is a specific engine you want to use. However, there is more work involved with setting it up and maintaining it. The other option, the hosted model, keeps things simple. The choice of blog engine is made for you. The trade-off for flexibility is ease-of-use.
http://libsyn.com): Don’t be surprised if Liberated Syndication turns up quite a lot in this book. LibSyn, still going strong after launching in 2004, is a combined blog/hosting company specifically designed for podcasting. Although it may not address all your needs, its ease of use and all-in-one nature should not be dismissed. Some podcasters choose to use LibSyn as their hosted solution; others use it to store their podcast files while their blog is on a non-hosted solution somewhere else. Either way, we think LibSyn’s pricing is quite reasonable, starting at $5 per month.
www.podbean.com): Another popular all-in-one option with the added support of a podcast directory optimized for mobile devices, Podbean combines online hosting packages, podcast publishing tools, and crowdfunding services. Podbean, both in its website and mobile app, offers a user-friendly interface integrating feed and media management, syndication, and analytics, along with promotion through popular social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. All this is available through affordable, flat-rate hosting plans. If you are starting off with baby steps, and then looking to take a deeper dive into podcasting, then Podbean is the right option for you and your podcast.
What’s this about podcasting by hand? Are you crazy? No, seriously — generating an XML file in RSS 2.0 format isn’t overly difficult. It’s just extremely easy to mess up! Sure, you could open Notepad, TextEdit, or any text editor, download a few examples, and generate your own code, but we advise against it.
If you decide to run your podcast on a home-spun, handmade RSS feed, you’re going to want to make sure your feed is solid and ready for prime time. That’s when Podbase is your best friend and harshest critic. Go to
https://podba.se/validate and enter your feed’s URL (not the host blog or site, but the feed itself) and then click the Validate button. Podbase tells you whether your RSS is air-tight. You can also find the full technical specifications for RSS 2.0 and a few answers to questions you have about RSS. This is a great place to visit not only when you’re about to launch a podcast but also when your feed suddenly stops working. (This is also a good “In case of emergency …” site for when you have WordPress handling the heavy lifting, and one day throws its back out.) When something is borked in your podcast, a feed validator is the first place you want to visit.
Unless you already have hosting taken care of, you’re going to need a place on the web to put your stuff. You know — your podcast media files, RSS feed, and show notes for your podcast. You also need a way to get them up there.
Getting a hosting provider is a breeze, with hundreds of companies all vying for your precious, hard-earned money each month. The good news is that all this competition has brought down the cost of hosting packages significantly. The bad news is that you have to go through a lot of clutter to reach the right selection.
This section covers the basic needs for most beginning podcasts and mentions a few pitfalls to watch out for. In Chapter 10, we get into the process of actually moving your files to your host.
When you’re comparing hosting plans, try not to get bogged down in the number of email addresses, MySQL databases, subdomains, and the like. All of those features have their own purposes, but as a podcaster, you have only two worries: how many podcasts the site can hold and how much bandwidth you get.
Podcast media files are big. Unlike bloggers, podcasters eat up server space. Where simple text files and a few images take up a relatively small space, podcast media files tend to be in the 5MB to 50MB range. And that’s just for audio.
Here some suggestions for zeroing in on what you need storage-space-wise:
Podcasters should look for hosting plans that include at least 3GB of storage space. As of this writing, several host providers charge less than $10 per month for that much space, and more.
Of equal importance to storage space is bandwidth, an elusive and often-misunderstood attribute of web hosting that is critical to podcasters. Bandwidth refers to the online space needed to handle the amount of stuff you push out of your website every month. The bigger the files, the more bandwidth consumed. Compounding the problem, the more requests for the files, the more bandwidth consumed.
For instance, the bandwidth for Chuck Tomasi’s Technorama can be over 100GB a month — that’s pretty impressive. Why so huge? Chuck and his cohost Kreg just celebrated their 600th episode. They’ve been at podcasting since the very beginning, and at their initial launch, the amount of information exchanged (read: downloads) was modest, but then people started talking. With the rise in popularity (thanks to top-shelf interviews with people in the science and entertainment industries), their downloads increased. So did the demands on bandwidth. Web hosts, in situations like this, must consider when it’s time to allocate a larger bandwidth package to handle a show — and that means more cash outlay.
And therein lies the double-edged sword of success. Most podcasters want more listeners, and that means more podcatching clients requesting the podcast media files. Bottom line: The more popular your show gets, the more bandwidth is being consumed every month.
To simplify, pretend that you produce one show each week, and your show requires 10MB of bandwidth. You publish the show on Monday, and your 100 subscribers receive your show that evening. You’ve just consumed 1,000MB of bandwidth (100 × 10MB) for that week. But next week, more people have found out about your incredibly amazing show, and now you have 200 subscribers. Next Monday, your bandwidth increases to 2,000MB, which gets added to your previous week’s total to bring you up to 3,000MB. The new listeners were so happy, they also download the previous week’s show, tacking on an extra 1,000MB. You’ve just consumed 4,000MB (or 4GB) of bandwidth for the month. You still have two weeks to go in the month, and if your numbers continue to climb like this, you will be burning through bandwidth (and your web host budget) quickly!
As a general rule, the longer your podcast episodes are, the more bandwidth you will need. If you find a plan that offers unlimited bandwidth, the problem is solved. Otherwise, you’ll want to try and find a plan that’s high in the gigabytes. If you have a podcast that’s both long and popular, start looking at plans that offer 1TB (that’s terabytes) or more.
You have ways to avoid the issue of bandwidth, or at least make it less of a concern even if you have large ambitions. Chapter 10 talks about some podcast-specific and advanced hosting options. Even if you don’t think you’ll have to worry about bandwidth, it’s a section to pay close attention to because you’ll likely be more popular and perhaps wordier than you think.