What it is and how you can use it to reach the world
On June 30th, 2005 an announcement came out of Cupertino, California that has the potential to revolutionize how we spread the Gospel down the street and around the world. Apple Computer rolled out version 4.9 of its Windows and Mac-based iTunes software and with it the ability to subscribe to Podcasts using the free software. Two days later more than 2 million Podcasts had been downloaded.
A Podcast is simply an audio or “radio” show, typically in MP3 format. An MP3 is simply a compressed audio file format that is often downloaded and played via the Internet. Just as one can use the iTunes software to find, download and sync one’s music with his iPod, now the application will allow you to do the same for Podcasts. As new editions of one’s Podcasts are updated, iTunes software can be set to automatically download the new shows. To set the record straight, a Podcast can be loaded onto any MP3 player that has space to accommodate it. Further, there are other software applications besides iTunes that allow users to subscribe to Podcasts.
How can you create a Podcast and encourage listeners to take advantage? In this two- part article we plan to demystify Podcasts and help you see how easy it is to create your own. We also encourage you to share this article with your pastor and help him catch the vision of this ministry, in addition to those in your congregation or on staff who can make this new audio ministry happen.
Then next issue, we’ll show you how simple it is to add a Podcast to your web site and let listeners know how to subscribe to it through RSS (Really Simple Syndication). For no extra charge, we’ll also cover some marketing tips that will help you produce a show so enticing that listeners want to come back again and again to grab your latest Podcast.
For years MP3s have grown in popularity. Apple Computer was the first to negotiate with record companies so that anyone with a computer could download songs legally via the Internet. The company also introduced an MP3 player called an iPod, the original device being about the size of a deck of cards. The iTunes and iPod combo got another boost when Apple added Podcasting abilities. You can find Podcasts in every imaginable genre. ESPN, for example, has a show, as does NASCAR, ABC News and many other “brand names”, but the beauty of the technology is this: so can you!
CREATING AN MP3
Creating an MP3 is easy. You probably already have about 99 percent of what you need. The first requirement is a computer that has a fairly speedy processor (check the requirements of the audio software you choose), available hard drive space and audio recording software. One of the best free audio recording applications that I’ve discovered is Audacity (http://audacity.sourceforge.net/). My personal favorite is Adobe Audition (http://www.adobe.com) with a street price of around 150 dollars.
Most computers will allow you to plug a microphone straight into the computer. Typically when the computer “mic in” jack is used, it means a lower quality microphone is being used. Using my Tascam US-122, I’m able to use my studio quality microphones that require phantom power. The US-122 is simply an analog to digital converter (A/D) that also has phantom power capability and there are now several other such devices on the market. Another great tool is Samson’s USB Microphone. For about 80 bucks, this studio quality microphone delivers very good audio and serves as an A/D interface using the USB port.
Typically audio software will capture your audio as a native .wav file if you’re on a PC, or an .aiff formatted file if you’re using a Mac. In the case of Audacity, you can even get the software to capture in the MP3 format. Explore the software to find how you can reduce the sampling quality. For voice programs alone, you’ll want to record in mono at a KBPS (kilobytes per second) rate that’s fairly low. (For reference, 168 is close to CD quality). You can piddle around with the settings to adjust the sound quality to your liking.
The objective of the game is that the end result is decent-sounding audio at a file size that can be easily delivered through the Internet. In summary, here’s the formula for creating an MP3 file: computer, mic, audio recording software = MP3 file. Without debate, you should capture (sample) the digital audio using as high of a sampling rate as you can for the same reason you shoot pictures in as high of resolution as possible. The thinking here is that you can always reduce the resolution, but you can’t increase it, once captured.
In most professional caliber audio software, converting a .wav to an MP3 is as easy as choosing “SAVE AS MP3” under the FILE menu. Once you have all your high resolution .wav or .aiff captured and mixed, save a copy of your show in the native format and put it aside for safe keeping. Then, using a copy of your newly produced show, experiment with the final sound quality by adjusting the sampling output. Even with DSL or cable, productions of any size can require several minutes of download time, not to mention MP3 player space. Be considerate.
How do you add music to your show, such as a very nicely produced introduction? Most audio software will allow you to copy audio from a CD and convert it to a .wav file or MP3, a process called “ripping”. A ripped or extracted audio cut from a CD would simply be inserted into the audio project as an additional track. Further, the audio software that I’ve mentioned allows you to record and mix multiple tracks. Audacity doesn’t make mixing nearly as easy as Adobe Audition.
Any time that I discuss computer-based audio recording, I always have to warn that you must defragment your hard drive before recording. This is not an option. On a PC, simply go under the Start Menu, find your System Tools folder and you’ll see your disk defragmenter application. Run it. This process is similar to watching grass grow. I start the defragmenting process just before I retire for the evening and a hard drive that has contiguous hard drive space available will be ready for me by morning. If you don’t defrag, you will hear snap, crackle and pop as the software looks for plenty of room to place sampled sound.
Another warning that I always give: abide by all copyright laws! We, as Christian communicators, should be setting the example. If the music or sound bites aren’t royalty free, don’t use them.
Most amazingly, you can produce an MP3 very easily and inexpensively. What makes an MP3 a Podcast is the fact that is “published” to a web site and on that web site is XML language that says, “Hey, there’s a Podcast here for the grabbing.” That’s what we’ll show you how to do next month and you’ll find that process as easy as creating an MP3. By the way, it currently costs nothing to list your Podcast at iTunes. Before we reconvene next month, your homework is to thoroughly investigate Apple’s web site: www.apple.com/podcasting and learn all that you can about MP3s (Apple’s own download format is called ACC), iPods and other MP3 players.
If you’re church is already Podcasting, I’d love to know and to tell others about it. Drop me a line.