Your First Episode: Podcast Recording Software

Now that you’ve got your hardware squared away, you’ll need some software to record your first episode. Software is the program(s) that work with the hardware on your computer and the hardware attached to your computer.

Audacity

By far, the simplest and most popular podcast recording software is Audacity. Compared to other programs, it is easy to use and maybe even a little bit boring. But it gets the job done. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s free.

You can download the latest version of Audacity for PC or Mac at audacityteam.org/download/. If you decide to use this program, while you are at it, go ahead and download the LAME MP3 Encoder at lame.buanzo.org/#lamewindl. You will need it later.

Sonar

Cakewalk’s Sonar LE program is more complicated to use. It presents more options than Audacity, many of which you won’t have reason to use as a podcaster. But if you end up composing music or mixing audio from different sources to create an NPR-level news program, it would be useful. The Sonar Home Artist edition sells for $49. You can view other editions and purchasing options at cakewalk.com/Products/SONAR/Versions.

GarageBand

GarageBand is an Apple program billed as a “music creation studio,” but you can also use it for recording your podcasts. If you own a Mac, you probably already have it. Once you fire it up, it may take a few passes to get the hang of it. Nic Raboy has an excellent, brief guide on recording episodes in GarageBand. You can read it and watch the video here.

Once you choose a program, download and install it on your computer. (Even if you plan on using Sonar or GarageBand, for the purposes of this guide, you can get started with Audacity. The skills you learn in Audacity will carry over.)

This post is a part of the PODCASTING FOR MINISTRY blog series.

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Your First Episode: Podcast Recording Hardware

Now that you’ve passed the planning stage of your podcast, it’s time to record your first episode. Just for review, make sure you have the following:

  • A name for your podcast
  • A purpose statement for your podcast
  • A topic you want to talk about in your first episode
  • A script (It doesn’t have to be long; one page is a good start.)

Are you ready to record? You’ll need a few things.

Computer

You probably already have this.

On the PC side, anything running Windows XP or higher should work fine. I recommend having at least 2 GBs of memory so your computer will be able to easily process the audio as it is being recording. You can check the amount of memory your PC has be clicking Start > right-clicking My Computer > and clicking Properties.

The amount of memory your computer has will appear beside Installed Memory or RAM. You can get by with 1 GB of memory, and some experts say 512 MBs is good enough for podcasting, but in this area, more is better. (On newer Windows models such as Windows 10, you will have to right-click on Start before accessing My Computer.)

Additionally, your PC should have at least 3-5 GBs of free hard drive space, a soundcard, and microphone or headphone jacks. Most PCs come with this already, so you should be good to go.

Most Macs running OS X Snow Leopard (10.6) or above will work fine for podcasting. Snow Leopard comes with 1 GB of memory and 5 GBs of free disc space.

Mic

The next thing you need is a high quality microphone. The built in mic on your laptop may be good for Skyping, but it is terrible for podcasting.

Samson C01U USB Mic

The Samson C01U USB Mic is great for podcasting.

If you are pressed for cash, you can get by with a cheap mic picked up from Walmart. That’s how I got started. But the two most highly-recommended microphones are the Samson Co1U Studio Condenser Microphone and the Blue Yeti USB Microphone.

I have used the Samson Co1U for years now, and it works great. It currently costs $80.99 on Amazon.com. It comes with a tripod stand, a swivel mount, and a user manual. It is a USB-based mic, so it is relatively easy to set up. The first version of the mic is still available on Amazon for $55.99. This version comes with a free copy of the Cakewalk Sonar audio recording and editing program. I don’t know how long this version will be available, but it’s a good steal right now. You can find out more about this mic at the Samson Tech website.

The Blue Yeti USB Microphone is available on Amazon for $114.93. I have never used it personally, but many successful podcasters recommend it. It is pretty much a plug-and-play deal and may be even easier than the Samson to set up on your computer.

Windscreen/Pop Filter

A windscreen on a Blue Yeti mic.

A windscreen on a Blue Yeti mic.

A windscreen is a foam cover that goes over the top of the microphone to mute breathing noises from being recorded. A pop filter is a foam screen that blocks the popping noises that are made when you make the p-sound into the mic. Both of these things can be annoying to the listener, and having a windscreen and/or pop filter can set you apart from amateurs.

Windscreens and pop filters are pretty cheap. You can buy a Samson mic package which includes a pop filter for $106.95 on Amazon. You can get a windscreen independently for the Blue Yeti microphone on Amazon for $12.95.

This post is a part of the PODCASTING FOR MINISTRY blog series.

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Planning Your Podcast: Scripted Or Not?

A final thing to consider when planning your podcast is whether or not your podcast will be scripted. Almost everything you see on TV — from the news to network dramas — is scripted. News anchors read from a teleprompter; actors memorize their lines. Most people would not think of podcasts as a scripted medium, but there are some reasons why you may want to consider scripting your episodes.

Scripting your podcasts means you never get behind the mic wondering what you’re going to say. You know from the start where you are going and how you are going to get there.

Scripting your podcasts reduces stammering, rambling, and “collecting your thoughts.” It may seem unfair, but this is frustrating to the listener who has tuned in for a specific purpose. They want information, inspiration, etc., and if it sounds like you can’t give it to them, they will stop listening.

Scripting your podcasts — writing out what you will say before you say it — forces you to be more succinct and precise in your delivery. It reduces pressure on you because you know that what comes out of your mouth is not fresh off the press. It’s not as new to you as it is to your listeners. This makes things a lot more comfortable for you and, believe it or not, listeners do notice if you sound like you know what you’re talking about.

So, for most podcasts, I recommend writing a script before recording each episode. In fact, you can write out your initial thoughts a day or a few days prior to recording so that you can have some time to review the content, do additional research, and add to the script if necessary.

Of course, the interview and panel podcast formats are not as conducive to scripting. But, with these formats, it is good to write out a general outline for the episode. For the interview, write ten questions you want to ask. For the panel, write a list of issues you want to talk about.

Scripting and planning ahead will make your podcast ten times better than it would be otherwise.

This post is a part of the PODCASTING FOR MINISTRY blog series.

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Planning Your Podcast: Selecting a Format

Now that you’ve settled on the purpose of your podcast and the name of your podcast, it’s time to think about the format your podcast will take. There are several options to consider.

The Monologue

The monologue is just what it sounds like. It consists of one person, the host, talking for the entire length of the episode. Sermons, lectures, and TED Talks reproduced as podcasts follow this format. Sometimes, the episode may be punctuated by another voice introducing the host at the beginning, delivering an advertisement or programming note in the middle, or providing a special offer or contact information at the end. But, for the most part, there is one voice delivering the episode content from beginning to end. A good example of a monologue format program is Al Mohler’s The Briefing (albertmohler.com/the-briefing/).

The Panel

This podcast format involves two or more hosts/commentators. (Think of The View.) Questions are asked, issues are raised, and each panelist makes a contribution to the discussion. A great example of this podcast format is Collider’s Movie Talk (amcmovietalk.libsyn.com). The only drawback to this format is having to coordinate the schedules of two or more people on a consistent. Technology makes this easier as you all do not have to be in the same place to produce the podcast. Services such as Google Hangouts and Skype enable you and your co-hosts to gather virtually for a recording session.

The Interview

Many podcasts hosts use their platform to interview others in their industry. As the host, you have the responsibility to select interesting guests and have engaging questions ready to ask. Of course, if you are just starting out podcasting, it may be difficult to book high profile individuals. The best advice is to start small and work your way up as you build an audience. NPR’s Fresh Air is a well-known example of an interview podcast (npr.org/programs/fresh-air/).

The Call-in Show

If you are a gregarious, outgoing individual, you may find the prospect of sitting behind a mic all alone completely unattractive. Well, you can spice things up by creating a call-in podcast and getting your listeners engaged with whatever subject you are talking about. Of course, this will require you to do a live show and to announce the show before it airs. By far, the best platform for call-in programs is Blog Talk Radio. You can take a look at how they do things at blogtalkradio.com/live.

If you are just starting out, I recommend that you go with the monologue format for now. It is the easiest to set up, and once you get the hang of it, you can expand into one of the other formats as you see fit.

This post is a part of the PODCASTING FOR MINISTRY blog series.

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Planning Your Podcast: How Often Should You Podcast?

Now that you know the purpose of your podcast and have settled on a suitable title, it’s time to address another important question: How often should you podcast? Every day? Every weekday? Once a week? Once a month?

There are no hard and fast rules here. You simply must consider how much content you can comfortably produce without straining or stressing yourself out. If your podcast is about breaking news in the technology industry, you would lean towards a daily or every weekday podcast schedule. If your podcast is about research on lower life forms in South America, you may want to consider a weekly or even monthly podcast. If you anticipate having a lot of content to talk about, a more frequent schedule is right for you.

Another consideration is how much content you intend to include in a single episode. If, right now, you are thinking about doing an hour-long podcast once a month, it is better to break that down into four fifteen-minute episodes that you release weekly. It is always better to err on the side of brevity. People are busy. They will be more willing to make a time commitment of fifteen minutes once a week than one of sixty minutes even if it is only once a month.

This post is a part of the PODCASTING FOR MINISTRY blog series.

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Planning Your Podcast: Decide What You Will Podcast About

By now, you probably have plenty of ideas about possible topics for a podcast. It’s time to decide what your podcast will be about. (Of course, you could create multiple podcasts, but for now let’s focus on one.)

You need to define what your podcast’s purpose is. The more specific the purpose, the better. You should be able to state it in one sentence. Here are some examples, one from each of the categories listed in the previous chapter.

To inform: The purpose of this podcast is to provide news and information about current cancer research.

To educate: The purpose of this podcast is to teach the basic facts and figures of Christian history.

To entertain: The purpose of this podcast is to discuss, analyze, and critique the works of George R.R. Martin.

To motivate/inspire: The purpose of this podcast is to encourage and motivate you to pray so you can live your beast life.

Now, it’s your turn. Complete this statement: The purpose of my podcast is…

Now that you know what your podcast will be about, let’s go ahead and settle on a title. The name of your podcast should be short and succinct. It should capture what your podcast is about in five words or less. Potential listeners should be able to see your title and decide immediately if it is something they are interested in. Now is not the time to be fancy, cryptic, or complicated. Tell people what they are getting into upfront. Here are some great examples, from each of the four categories above.

Informational

The World Tonight
Africa Today
Urban Christian News Network
State of America
The World This Hour

Educational

Stuff You Should Know
The History of Christianity
Planet Money
Understanding World Religions
Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing

Entertainment

The Empire Film Podcast
Marvel Movie News
Star Wars Minute
Seincast: A Seinfeld Podcast
Pop Culture Happy Hour

(If your podcast falls into this category, it’s okay to bend the rule about not being cryptic in order to target the audience you’re trying to reach. If you were to create a podcast named The Westeros Report, fans of Game of Thrones would know what you’re talking about. Most other people wouldn’t.)

Motivational/Inspirational

Insight for Living
The Prayer Motivator
The Busy Mom
This Is Your Life
Faith for the Journey

What will your title be?

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Why You Should Start a Podcast

In the ministry that I work in, I have helped create and produce over thirty podcasts made up of over 4,000 episodes. Thousands of people all over the globe listen to and download these podcasts each week.

I am writing to show you how your ministry can do the same.

Our ministry began its first podcast in January 2011 with one devotional podcast about prayer. I was tasked with the technical part of setting things up—the part most people don’t want to deal with. Back then, I had no idea what I was getting into. So, I read a Dummies book on podcasting and followed it step-by-step. Since then, I have learned an enormous amount about this popular and growing medium. Now, doing the tasks associated with podcasting are second nature. So, whether you are planning on starting a podcast for your church, ministry, or non-profit organization, you’re reading the right book.

Why should you start a podcast?

Podcasts have many uses. Here are some:

  • To educate. Colleges are now publishing lectures from their courses as audio or video podcasts. Many of these are available in iTunes U, an Apple app that makes course content available to people outside the classroom. If you are en expert in a certain field, you can create a podcast to teach others about that subject. Religious issues, theological debate, and charitable causes can all be platforms from which to launch a podcast.
  • To inform. Podcasting has become so powerful that many people are using this form of media to receive the news. Most people don’t like to read, but at the same time, they don’t like having their eyes and/or hands occupied when they could be doing other things. The solution? Pop in a pair of earphones and start listening. An increasing number of news organizations are adding podcasts to their publishing output. According to the Pew Research Center, sites such as Slate and Buzzfeed count podcasting as a “strategic” move to capture new audiences. Slate boasts “millions of listeners” and has even started a podcast network. The point is: people want to be informed via digital audio. If your organization holds numerous events or is a source for news in your community, a podcast is a great way to publish that information.
  • To motivate. Whatever the medium, motivational podcasts will always be in style. Encouragement, affirmation, inspiration. You can’t go wrong with this as your platform. Some of the most successful podcasts that I have produced actually have the word “motivator” in the title. People are always looking for that extra boost that will move them forward. However, if you set out to give them that boost, don’t fall into the trap of what I call “bottomless motivation.” Your motivational podcast should aim to get listeners to actually do something beyond sitting for fifteen or thirty minutes listening to happy talk. Your goal ought to be to get your listeners to act on something specific. So, get to the bottom line. Instead of naming your podcast “How to Be Successful”, name it “How to be Successful at Raising Your Child.”
  • To entertain. Statistics show that out of the top five most popular podcast categories on iTunes, three of them have to do with entertainment—music, comedy, TV and film. Anything that is considered entertainment can be turned into a podcast. Cliff Ravenscraft, a very successful host known as “The Podcast Answerman,” got his start podcasting about the TV show LOST and the books and movies surrounding The Hunger Games and The Twilight Saga. Whatever you like for entertainment, you can rest assured that there are many people out there who would love to share their excitement about it with someone else. A podcast is a great way to connect with those people.

Think about what you or your organization have to offer the world. What type of podcast would you like to create?

This post is a part of the PODCASTING FOR MINISTRY blog series.

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