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October 6, 2006

Podcasting 101 - How do I get started?

Posted by Sanford Dickert | Discussion: 0 Comments

podcast_logo.gifOne of the most amusing discussions I have been having with people have been on the discussion of social media, which you can read as podcasting, vidcasting, vblogging, videoblogging, audioblogging - whatever. People are doing it any number of ways - using Macs, PCs, simple MP3 recorders, video cameras, Treos, etcera - and, from an outsider's point-of-view, it can seem somewhat daunting. What is RSS? What is an "enclosure"? Can I "blog" it? How do I work it? Do I need a "techie"?

Too many questions!
There are a number of solutions for podcasting - both video and audio - and, depending upon your needs, you can do it yourself, if you are willing to invest the time (I promise, not that much time is needed). To help in this, I am leveraging some of my experiences from my corporate business, Contagious Conversations, where I will interspirse posts on the basics of podcasting in the coming weeks. To make it easier to understand (and less expensive), I will focus on audio podcasting, since most campaigns will not be spending an inordinate amount of time doing video production (okay, there is always an exception). So, to begin with, let's start with a very simple question: what is a podcast?

MP3 files alone do not make a podcast, and no iPod needed
One of the funniest lessons I had discussing social media with other people was the overuse of the word "podcast". If you look at ABCNews' "This Week" page, scroll down to the This Week Podcasts - and note the name of the MP3 link, "Listen to the 'This Week' Podcast". While ABCNews has learned from their prior misnomers, the MP3 file is still called a podcast - and a number of sites that allow for people to download audio or video files are not "podcasting".

Podcasting, to quote directly from the ABCNews' site is:

Podcasting is the latest in on-the-go, on-demand technology. With podcasting, you can listen to radio programs or events whenever and wherever you choose. Podcasts are MP3 audio files that are automatically downloaded to your personal computer, and then transferred to an iPod or other MP3 player using a podcasting application. (my emphasis)

You might wonder why I am making such an issue out of this - many of you know what a podcast is, you listen to them via iTunes on your iPod. But, the number of political campaigns that think a podcast is putting an audio file on a website for download misses the fundamental benefit of podcasting: the file becomes viral campaign collateral if it is properly marketed and disseminated through the networks already formed for podcasts. Rather than thinking that the website is the end-all of the campaign's online presence, consider the viral nature of the Jib-Jab flash animation in 2004, or the "kiss" video on YouTube that impacted Lieberman's primary campaign. Podcasting is the ability to make your media content transportable and delivering it to where other people can find it - without coming back to the website.

This is not any different than thinking about having campaign offices in different geographic areas - everyone does not have to come back to the main office to get their lawn signs or bumper stickers. If you know where the podcasts can be found (e.g. Odeo, Blubrry, PodShow, Podcast Alley, Podcast Pickle to name a few), you can submit your podcast feed (now here is where it gets tricky...) and then supporters can find your podcast!

Now that this is clear, let's get to the next question: why are you doing a podcast?

Know your reasons why you are making a podcast
One of the most difficult questions about a podcast is "why"? Why would you want to spend any time making a podcast, and (more importantly) why would anyone want to listen to it? Just because the "star" is a a political candidate, this does not make for a compelling podcast - listeners want a reason for listening, not just because it is there. But, if you think that a frank discussion on the issues would be worth listening to, then maybe a "fireside chat" format might work. Set up the podcast with a purpose in mind, don't just jump on the bandwagon simply because it is "cool' or the "in thing" to do (please).

One of my friends, Dean Landsman, often discusses the "production planning" for a podcast - instead of being completely impromptu, create a structure that helps frame the content. You make sure the stationary you send out to your financial supporters have a good header and footer - the same kind of thing works for podcasts as well. In this case, think about the intros and extros (think prologues and epilogues in publishing) you will attach/read in the beginning and end of each episode/podcast.

My first personal attempt at podcasting was a mix-mash of content, but I attempted to focus on these basic principles (which you can listen to at Personal Democracy Forum) back in May. My favorite podcast that follows these principles is found at Yi-Tan, a weekly technology conference call (podcast feed found here), where host Jerry Michalski sticks to his script with almost religious devotion to ensure both consistancy and professional branding in the intros and extros.

Once you have a bare-bones outline of what your podcast is about, and potentially had the communications director (or deputy director) draft the initial intros and/or extros, now you are ready to actually record.

The "Set Up"
As shown on this rather elaborate page offered by podcaster Reel Reviews Radio, the set up is easy (be sure to listen to the podcast) - as long as you are ready for the effort of playing with the tools.

You need a couple of things right off - and I assume you are working with a laptop or a PC with a microphone jack (on the sound card):

  • Microphone
    This is where I splurged, getting a nice condenser microphone to bring about a richness in my and my guest's voice. As mentioned in the earlier post, a simple $49 Radio Shack microphone (like the one you see all the time) can work just as well. Make sure that you get the correct jack for your computer input (be aware that most mics have the larger connector for real mix boards, and you are looking for a small jack. Another solution that has been recommended by a couple of people is the USB condenser microphone (see this listing at Amazon) which plugs into your USB port.
  • Recording Software
    There are a number of solutions out there, including the reliable standby, Audacity. Since I wanted to use my Mac, I discovered the joy of GarageBand when I decided to work on the PDF podcasts. Additionally, I installed Audio Edit Magic on my IBM laptop to double as my backup recording system. All of these software packages have their own interface issues - none are overly simple, and I have yet to see one that works as simply as press a button, record and publish (though GarageBand does make like it does). Be prepared to read the manuals on this part, at least for recording and cropping the audio files (kind of like cropping digital photos).
  • Publishing Platform
    Rather than going into an entire discussion on what to do, let me point you to a terrific article on how to make Blogger work as your podcast platform. Additionally, the article recommends WordPress or MovableType as well, but Blogger is easy, free and simple to use.
  • Hosting
    "Hosting?", you ask. Yes, hosting - where you will place your audio files when you are finished recording them. Just like your web pages, your audio files need to be made available to the public via the Internet using a web server just like your HTML web pages ("Oh no!", I see you cringe). But the solution is very simple if you use services like PowWeb, LibSyn or CacheFly. For this task, all you need is the web server to be setup for you to have your files retrievable via the web (e.g. have a URL for the mp3 file, like http://www.podcasting.land-com.net/Yi-TanCall69.mp3) such that anyone with a web browser can download the file with a click of a link.

And next post, the fun stuff...

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