The term “podcast” is a combination of “pod” (Portable On Demand) and “broadcast”. A podcast is a pre-recorded bit of music, talk, or other sound, which is posted to a site on the Internet for others to download and listen to. Because it’s available online, it can be accessed anywhere that you can access the Internet via a computer or phone. For example, The Functional Nerds have a weekly podcast where they interview authors, artists, and musicians, and then post the interview for you to hear, for free.
You don’t need to have an interview show to want to create a podcast, though: I record myself reading my fiction and post those recordings on my website, so people have the option of reading the story or listening to the audio. Musicians record their songs, whether to promote a new release or to share a work in progress to get audience feedback.
What you’ll need:
A computer, or smartphone, with an Internet connection. In order to get your podcast to where the public can hear it, you have to be able to record it and post it online.
A microphone. (I’d also recommend a headset.) Your microphone can be the built-in mic on your computer or phone, though a separate microphone which is plugged into your computer will have better sound quality. In addition, I use headphones when recording, instead of listening to the sound through my speakers so that my mic doesn’t pick up from the sound from the speakers and record that too. Even if you’re recording alone, instead of doing an interview with someone else, turn off your speakers – otherwise you’ll pick up the low hiss that a speaker produces when it’s turned on.
Recording and editing software. This can be something simple, like the “Voice Recorder” app that comes with your iPhone, or the “Sound Recorder” program which is available free for Windows or Ubuntu users, or something more complex like Garage Band or Audacity. We’ll discuss the options below.
MP3 converter (if your software can’t save it your recording as an .mp3). Most hosting sites prefer the .mp3 format because most computers have software which will automatically play it. If you use Voice Recorder, for example, you’ll be making an .mp4 file, and if that’s the case, you’ll also need a program to convert it.
A way to host your audio file. If you manage your own website, you should be able to post an .mp3 file easily. If you use a blogging service like WordPress, you can purchase an add on that lets you embed audio files into your blog posts, for an annual fee. You can also sign up with a hosting service that will put your file on the Internet for you.
Some recording software options:
Voice Memos for iPhone: If you have an iPhone, your probably have this app already. By pushing the record button, you can speak into the phone and the app will save an .mp4 file of your voice. Or anything else that you want to record. Then you can email yourself the file, or use another app to post it directly to your website (such as the WordPress app). This is probably the fastest and simplest way to make a podcast, and no other materials are required beyond the phone, the app, and a place to put your podcast.
Sound Recorder (for Windows XP or Vista): To open Sound Recorder, click Start, point to All Programs, point to Accessories, point to Entertainment, and then click Sound Recorder. As long as you have a mic of some kind, you can use this simple program to record your podcast. This will save your recording as a .wav file. Simple button clicking starts and stops the recording, and plays it back for you to hear (in XP, anyway; Vista users don’t get that option).
Sound Recorder (for Ubuntu): Essentially the same program, though you will need to go into your Ubuntu Software Center and install a free copy. Bonus: It will save your file as an .mp3, .m4a, .flac, .ogg, .mp2, .wav or .spx. Chances are great that one of those will be the file format you need.
Audacity: Another free recording software. Bonus: It’s available for Windows, Mac or GNU/Linux, which includes Ubuntu. For this reason, it’s the program I’d most recommend. It has a huge list of features, including the ability to edit the sound you’ve recorded together with another sound file, clean up background noise, adjust volume or sound quality, import a file in one format, and save it as another.
Garage Band: If you don’t already have it on your Mac, go get Audacity instead. However, if you already have Garage Band, you can add music to your podcast, thanks to the big selection of sampled and synthesized instruments. While this isn’t, strictly speaking, a podcasting software, if you have been using it to learn to play the piano or to be your own DJ, you can also use it to record yourself speaking and export that into a format you can post on your website. (There’s also a Garage Band app.)
Some options for hosting your podcast:
This site allows you to register for free, host your own podcast, and store your past shows in their archive. They also let listeners subscribe to your show, and have some expanded paid options. Of the free podcasting options, the ones hosted on someone else’s site (not your own), this is currently the most professional-oriented.
WordPress doesn’t have an add-on specifically for including audio files in your posts, but you can’t do it unless you’ve added more space. 5g, the smallest option, costs $19.97 a year and includes the ability to add audio to your site.
If you’re interested in having your podcast available on iTunes, and don’t want to use a third-party service to do it, this detailed instruction page will have all of the information you need: Apple’s “Making a Podcast” page
What I use: I have Ubuntu on my desktop at home, so I use Audacity to record. I have an M-Audio Producer USB mic, which has great sound quality (and a built-in headphone jack, and worked without requiring that I install drivers to make it compatible with my system). I use WordPress to create the blog entries for my website, so I paid the annual fee for the added space, and can easily put the audio files into a blog post, the same way that you’d insert an image. I don’t use the M-Audio software because it’s not compatible with Ubuntu, but Audacity has more features than I need, and was free.
While you can put a lot of research and work into choosing the best software for your needs, this is meant to be a basic introduction to podcasting. You can, using just the information in this post, create and publish your podcasts without having to get anything else. For more options, check out this list of sound recording programs for all platforms.