Wednesday, November 17, 2010

How to Podcast--Part 1

As promised I will do my best to provide step-by-step instructions on podcasting that include some technical information. In a previous post I talked a bit about the creative aspects of podcasting, though if you are unfamiliar with podcasting you might want to start here. I'm not a real Techie, so if you find my instructions confusing, send me an email and I will do my best to answer your questions.

I do my podcasting at home with my home computer. Some Podcasters record away from a computer using a portable recording device (usually the preferred device is a digital device that can be plugged directly into the computer in order to download the recording.) These devices cost between $50-100 and can be obtained through sites such as or at stores like Staples. I use a Logitech stand microphone that I plug into my computer. I paid less than $30 for it and the quality is adequate.

I record using Audacity, a free program downloaded from the internet. (Audacity makes money by selling merchandise and accepting donations, so if you use it often you might want to consider compensating the programmers for their excellent work.) It is easy to record using Audacity.

Try to find a quiet time/place to record. If you can hear someone mowing the lawn, for example, wait for them to finish. Most microphones have noise reduction but the feature is not perfect. I keep my "record" volume fairly low (below 50 percent) in order to avoid picking up too much ambient background noise.

When you are ready to start, just plug your microphone into your computer using the manufacturer's instructions (making sure it is turned on), open Audacity, and click on the red dot to begin recording. Remain quiet and motionless for a few seconds before beginning. This will provide a sample to use if you will utilize the noise removal feature of Audacity (which I will talk about later.)

Generally I click the record button, wait a few seconds, then open my text in Microsoft word, then begin reading. If you make a mistake (loud noise, coughing, or mangling your words), pause for a second or so and then go back a bit and continue. Later you will simply snip the offending passage out, just as you delete a passage from a text document. When you are finished, hit the square yellow stop button in Audacity.

The next step is editing. What you see in Audacity is sound waves, although they are compressed and don't look like it. If you want to see the actual stretched-out waves, click on the magnifying glass in the tool bar and drag it to the waves and click on them to expand them. In order to facilitate editing you will want to collapse them again by using the magnifying glass tool while holding down the shift key. You will probably want to expand the height of the sound waves; use the magnify tool and click on the "0.0" at the beginning of the wave line until you can clearly see the waves to edit the recording.

Begin by removing extraneous sound. Take a sample of about 3 seconds of silence at the beginning of the recording by highlighting it (use the cursor from the tool bar.) Listen to the sample to make sure there are no distinct sounds (like a breath or clicking the keyboards). Click on "Effect" from the menu and then choose "noise removal.) Click "Get noise profile." Then go back to the recording and highlight the whole recording (you can hold down Control + A together to do this) and go back to "noise removal." This time choose "ok."

Then I use the normalize effect. Keep the whole recording highlighted. (Just click on "normalize" and click "ok" to the default.) The final effect I use is "equalization." Go to "equalization" under "effects." I choose "Columbia LP" from the menu and then click "ok."

I go through the podcast and eliminate coughs, throat clears, and shorten overly long pauses. To eliminate a piece of the recording, highlight it and listen to it to make sure you have the proper section, then just hit the "delete" key. You can always reverse a mistake by holding down control and hitting "Z." There is a "silence finder" function under "Analyze" that can help you find long pauses. It will mark the pauses. You can scroll through the recording using the arrows underneath. The best way to find coughs and other noises to be removed is to listen to the recording. (You may actually remember them, or you can even mark them down on scratch paper while you record.) Be careful when removing portions of the recording; go back before the section you removed to ensure a smooth transition. It can help to use the magnifying tool to expand the section to see exactly where to cut.

If you would like to add music or sound effects, you will need to add one or two additional tracks. Go to "Track" and under track click "add new" and choose either stereo or mono, depending on the type of recording you will be adding.

Music and clips added to your podcast can enhance it greatly but it adds to editing time. You need to find clips that are legal for you to use and you need to provide proper credit. In some cases you can use music recorded at your church or by you; make sure you check the copyright on the sheet music and consult with the musicians you use. A lot of older sacred music is in the public domain, so if that is the case with the music you choose, as long as the musicians agree to allow you to use the music without paying them a royalty you are free to do so.

You can also use instrumental or inspirational music through Creative Commons. Many Creative Commons licenses allow for free use as long as you will not be making a profit from the project in which the music is used. I find my Creative Commons music at CCMixter. You can search for the music by keyword. If you will be using just a portion of the music make sure that the license allows for that. Download the music onto your computer and then open it in a new file in Audacity. I highlight the portion I want to use and then copy and paste it into the second track on the recording. Usually I fade the music in at the beginning and out at the end to make for a more graceful transition. Highlight the portion you want to fade in or out and then choose "fade in" or "fade out" under effects. Usually I will add in a piece that is a bit too long and then just delete out the end part, and then fade it in and out. You can adjust the sound on each track at the left hand side but you can also adjust the sound of portions up or down by using the "Amplify" function under "Effects." You can slide the "amplify" effect down into the negative numbers to make the section quieter or in the regular numbers to make it louder. Proper sound mixing is crucial when using background music; if music drowns out your speaking it ruins the recording.
If you want to add sound effects that overlap the music, you will need to add a third track. I generally record my sound effects at home because I have found free sound effects difficult to find over the internet, but you might have luck by doing a Google search for a particular sound.
If you want to add snippets from other programs (such as news programs) you can ask for permission from the copyright holder (and make certain you reach the correct copyright holder.) In some cases you may be allowed to use clips from news sources under fair use. I am not going to discuss what constitutes fair use, but you can learn more about it at the Wikipedia entry. From there you can explore the topic as much as you choose, draw your own conclusions and proceed accordingly. I will say that if you do decide to include snippets under what you believe is fair use and you get any complaints from someone claiming to own the copyright who asks you to cease and desist, my advice is to remove the clip in question immediately.

This concludes part one; the creation of the podcast. In a separate post I will talk about how to get the podcast online and into iTunes.

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