Podcasting Resources

I attended the World Science Fiction Convention, L.A.Con IV, where, among other things, I listened to a panel discussion on pod casting on August 24th. Here’s the official description from the program guide:

Podcasting Science Fiction Speaker(s): Stephen Eley, Evo Terra, John O’Halloran, Paul Fischer (Moderator)

Is there a market for science fiction and fantasy via podcast? Is there even an audience? Can you make money directly or is it just a way to get your material known? If you’re a reader/consumer, is this a good way to find science fiction and just how do you find what you want?

The panel began with an overview of what podcasting is, with some discussion of its virtues. John O’Halloran likes the fact that podcasts are available on demand; the data is available when you want it, primarily because of the use of RSS and other Web services to distribute podcasts. Fischer agreed, emphasizing that it’s what you want, when you want it, and if you decide you don’t want it, you simply stop downloading it. Evo Terra added that if you don’t find what you want in terms of a podcast, then you can create it. He also mentioned the importance of receiving a response from listeners via email or blog comments.

Since many of the audience weren’t yet making or downloading podcasts, a fair amount of time was spent on basic information in terms of locating, listening to, and creating podcasts. You don’t need an iPod to download or play podcasts; the normal file format for a podcast is an MP3 file, playable in iPods and hosts of other MP3 players, on computers, a number of CD-ROM and audio CD players, and of course, MP3s can easily be converted to other audio formats and even burned to an audio CD.

Apple’s free iTunes player, for Mac and Windows is an easy way to locate and play podcasts. Some people prefer the free Mac or Windows application MyPodder from PodCastReady.com, which allows you to find and download podcasts to a variety of media and devices. Other ways of finding podcasts, aside from the usual ‘net sources like word of mouth, or positive mentions on Web logs and Web pages, are dedicated services, like SFFAudio.com, which offers reviews of SF and Fantasy audio in a variety of formats, both online and off. PodcastPickle.com is a searchable directory of podcasts, organized by name, by genre, by language and by popularity.

The following are suggestions, and pointers, for the beginning podcaster, culled from the panel participants and not necessarily attributed:

  • Get a decent microphone. It doesn’t have to be expensive if you’re doing spoken word.
  • iRiver MP3 players like the T30 support voice recording and work with Windows; they’re good enough to use for recording live interviews and spoken word.
  • If you’re recording a group of people, Paul Fischer suggests putting a microphone inside a salad bowl, and have someone point it at the speaker; it’s an inexpensive but effective parabolic microphone.
  • Liberated Syndication is a syndication and hosting service. For a flat monthly fee they provide server space (starting at 100 MB/$5.00) for your actual podcast file, an RSS feed, and an interface to distribute your podcast. LibSyn also works with extant blogs, they charge only for storage, not bandwidth, and provide archive storage so old podcasts are still accessible but don’t affect your monthly storage total.
  • Think about using Skype for phone interviews.
  • Paul Fischer suggests that you listen to your podcast in all the ways you think your audience might; on a computer with speakers, using headphones, in a car, on an MP3 player . . . make sure the sound is OK for each.
  • RSS or some other form of Web service for syndication, which allows listeners to subcribe to your podcast and download it automatically, is crucial. PodPress is a plugin for the WordPress blogging system that takes care of the syndication/RSS feed for you as part of your blog. Feeder is a $29.95 Mac OS X (PowerPC and Universal) application that takes care of creating the RSS feed for your podcast. Feedburner is another alternative.
  • CreativeCommons licenses are an easy way to protect your rights to your content to the extent you feel comfortable about, yet allow listeners to freely download and use your content.
  • Apple’s GarageBand 3 for OS X makes podcast production and editing very easy but do be sure to correctly export the default GarageBand Podcast file to an AIFF, then compressing and converting it to an MP3 file (possibly with QuickTimePro) which is universally usable and listenable instead of the default M4A iPod/ACC/Apple only format. There are some suggestions about how to do that and even an Automator workflow, and a step-by-step-tutorial. Also see Apple’s Podcasting tutorial and Podcasting resources. Audacity for OS X and Windows is an opensource and free alternative.
  • Steven Eley suggests working with some sort of a script, even if it’s only a list of topics, doing multiple takes, then editing. He uses a dog clicker to mark the spot when he knows he has a slip; the sound produced by the clicker creates a distinctive sound wave form in the editing software, making it easy to edit out the error.
  • In general, advice about creating a podcast include the suggestion to talk slowly, and to think of your first podcast as -5, and that your sixth is the one you actually release to the world. Subject-specific podcasts do better; find a niche. Don’t bother with paying for Google text ads; link to other bloggers and podcasters, get listed in the directories, and ask other podcasters to link to you.