NBI: Creating a Podcast on the Cheap with WordPress
As I mentioned last week, May is Newbie Blogger Initiative month. If anyone is looking for some new reading material, I highly recommend going through the official check-in thread. There are a lot of great new sites! A few stood out as being particularly relevent to my interests, including Kemwer Game Blog, Fun Sponge, and Gaming For Introverts.
Last week I wrote about finding your voice and creating great content, and today I’m going to talk about something technical: creating a podcast to accompany your blog.
There are a lot of great podcasts in the MMO blogging community, from 5 minute rants to epic 2-hour investigations. You can spend a lot of money on hardware and software supplies, and to be frank if you decide that podcasting is something you really love then you probably SHOULD be spending that money. Fortunately, amateur podcasting with a WordPress blog is inexpensive and relatively easy, and a great way to try out your audio chops.
Please keep in mind that I am not writing this from the perspective of a podcasting expert, because that would be a horrible lie. Instead what I am is someone who looked all this stuff up recently, and really in this day and age isn’t asking Google almost the same things as being an expert? Hmmm? Maybe don’t answer that. Anyway, on with the guide!
There are a few resources that you absolutely must have. The first is a microphone. You probably already have this for talking to your guild in-game! The second is access to a program that will record at least you, but also possibly you plus guests. Skype is popular for this, or in my case I use our regular guild Mumble server. The third and final requirement is a storage place online where people can download your podcast once it’s finished. Podcasts aren’t necessarily very large — 25-30 MB for every half hour of recording — so you could get some cloud space or just put it on your website server.
Decide how long your podcast will be and roughly how you want to break down any segments if you have them. If you’re so inclined, write an outline and share it with your guests ahead of time. Keep in mind that you’ll probably want to record for longer than your show time! I record for an hour, and cut it down later to 30 minutes. That gives plenty of extra content if the sound goes wonky or I start to babble about my cats or whatever.
Do you want a theme or some musical interludes? The best source I found for royalty-free music is Free Music Archive. Make sure you check the licensing agreement for individual songs. Obeying the copyright wishes of independent artists is good karma!
Do a quick test to make sure everyone’s microphone is recording. (Mumble in particular allows users to mark themselves as un-recordable, so check!) Run a stopwatch while recording so you can keep track of how well you’re adhering to your segment outline. I like to write my intro and outro bits completely, because otherwise I will end up forgetting something important like who I am or the name of the podcast. Some things you might want to mention is where listeners can find the podcast on the web (ie. talk about your blog!), where they can subscribe, and when you’ll be back with another episode.
Ready? Now create some compelling audio content! *waves hands mysteriously*
Hooray, you have what is probably a big .wav file with a lot of interesting content and some mistakes! That wasn’t so bad, huh?
Now it’s time for post-production magic. Go download two amazing and totally free programs: Audacity and The Levelator. Open your raw podcast file in Audacity. If you haven’t used it before, Audacity is kind of like the Microsoft Word of audio files. You can select bits to cut and paste, insert silence, and so on.
The editing can take a long time. Really the only limitation is how picky you feel like being. I edit out obvious mistakes, gaps, and “Ummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm”s, and then also try to pare each segment down to 5 focused minutes. The first podcast took me roughly 10 hours to edit, while the second was done in a svelt 7 hours. Anyway, how much or how little you want to do depends on your raw content and your own preferences. There’s no wrong answer.
Once you’ve finished editing the voice file, save it as a .wav and start up The Levelator. This program runs a number of audio cleaning processes on your file, including adjusting levels and a whole bunch of stuff that I don’t really understand. The important point is that it makes things sound better, and we like that! When it’s done, open the file back up in Audacity. If you want to add music, go to “Edit” and “Add an audio track”. From there you can copy and paste in your music. Check the settings for things like fade out, if you want.
All done fiddling with the audio? Save the file as MP3, which will be a lot smaller than the .wav format.
Sharing your new podcast
Oh snaps, you have a podcast! It sounds pretty and has music and … it’s on your computer desktop. So now what?
First, upload your podcast to your online storage of choice. Decide how you want to integrate it into your blog — for example, I created a “podcast” category on Herding Cats for episodes. You might want to write a few notes to go with your podcast for information such as your theme music and any links you talked about during the episode. Set up a Feedburner feed specifically for your podcast. That will be the URL people can use to subscribe through Google Reader or most mobile podcast apps.
iTunes monitors your podcast through a special RSS feed, and unsurprisingly they can be quite picky about the details of this feed. I avoided the issue completely by installing the PowerPress Podcast Plugin. There are a lot of options with this plugin, so give yourself time to poke around and look at everything. PowerPress will add a media player automatically to your podcast posts, can track your downloads, and formats your iTunes RSS feed for you. (Note: iTunes requires a 600×600 “album cover” graphic, so be prepared for a little graphic design.)
Got PowerPress set up? Before submitting to Apple, test your podcast feed by manually importing it into the Podcast section of your iTunes application. Does the information look good? Can you hear your audio? Sweet! Go to the Podcast page in the iTunes store and select “Submit a Podcast” from the menu on the right. Apple will listen to your podcast before approving it, and it took us about 48 hours before it appeared online.
Voila, you are a blogger AND podcaster! Congratuations, you media maven. :)