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Are We Still Podcasters?

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I was speaking with Daniel J. Lewis from The Audacity to Podcast recently about what we do as podcasters. Daniel—not me, the other one—has been doing his shows on UStream. Daniel—me, not the other one—tried that but found that Mixlr was the better solution for live shows right now. Other podcasters have been utilizing UStream and Mixlr, as well as other streaming tools, for years. This begs the question‚

Are we still podcasters?

If we’re going by the generally accepted definition of a podcaster, maybe not. According to Wikipedia, a podcast is a “non-streamed webcast“. Episodes are pre-recorded and made available for download to a listener’s device, to be listened to offline. They may also be played on-demand on a podcaster’s website or in iTunes, but the key element here is that the episodes must be pre-recorded. That’s what makes a podcast a podcast.

If we’re doing live shows which we then make available as podcasts later on, what are we doing? You wouldn’t say that a morning radio host who makes his shows available on his website is podcasting. He’s broadcasting and making recordings of those broadcasts available as podcasts. Are we not doing the same?

We’ve fought against the perception of the word “podcast” for years. People who aren’t familiar with podcasting sometimes think that an iPod is required. They sometimes believe that podcasts aren’t meant for them because they have not, historially, been mainstream or widely adopted. Many simply don’t know what a podcast is and are turned off by the word because it’s unfamiliar. We all know what radio is. We all know what television is. Those words make sense to everyone. “Podcast” doesn’t share that luxury.

I’ve started a little experiment. I’ve been telling people that I’m an internet broadcaster. It’s a mouthful, but people get it. When they ask me what kind of show I do, I’m able to tell them and they’re able to understand because they make a connection between radio broadcasts and internet broadcasts.

What we do is not “online radio” despite what a major internet broadcasting service bills itself as. Radio is a descrete technology that has as much to do with the internet as it does with television—nothing at all.

I also dislike the terms “webcast” and “netcast“. Like “podcast”, those words are not used by the average person on the street. While they do make sense, “broadcast” is a word that nobody needs to actively recall a definition for. We don’t say radiocast or televisioncast when talking about those mediums. Broadcasters work in radio and televsion. There’s no reason broadcasters can’t work online.

  • “I’m a radio broadcaster. I’m a radio talk show host.”
  • “I’m a television broadcaster. I’m a television talk show host.”
  • “I’m an internet broadcaster. I’m an internet talk show host.”

Makes sense to me. What do you think? Are you protective of the word “podcast” or “podcaster”? Do you think you would make a change?

The Flowering Structure of a Podcast

Author:

So you’re got a microphone ready, there might be a camera in the background with a blinking LED, and it’s time for you to record your latest podcast. But where to start?

One of the questions I get asked a lot is "what should I talk about" in a podcast. To be honest as long as you are talking about something you are passionate about, which has elements of entertainment, education and information, you’re probably on the right track. What’s just as important is how you say it. There’s a structure that’s worked well for me for presentations, seminars, training courses, and podcasts, and I want to throw it out there as a rule of thumb just now.

It’s a pretty simple formula for framing your chunk of information you want in the podcast. The thing you want to tell people sits nicely in the middle. Right before you tell people, you tell them what you’re going to tell them. Once you’ve told them, tell them what you just told them.

Okay you’ll be using some production tricks between the three parts, but a strong "welcome to the show, today I’m going to tell you how to fly to Paris" followed by a jingle, then how to fly to the French capital, followed by another jingle or musical sting, and then "that was how to get to Paris, for more, listen to the next Wonderful World of Travelling episode."

Too broad strokes for you? Then break down the fly to Paris in to two or three sections – for example landing at the Airport, and then travelling to the centre of town. Tell them first you’ll talk about the airport experience, then tell them, then remind them as you move towards the city centre.

With this "flowering" technique you can not only break down a big presentation in a podcast, but you’ll have a natural flow of information, alternating new facts and reinforcement through repetition, as well as a structure that can be used again and again. It’s a great framework when you start out, but also a good safety net if you loose focus and have no idea what to do – it wouldn’t be the first time that this has saved me in a live show!

Tell ’em what you’ll tell them – tell them – tell them what you told em.

Simple.

Image Source: Yukiroad, Creative Commons.

The Lost Podcasting Episodes

Author:

It’s June 26th as I write this, and last night I recorded an episode of Be a Better Podcaster, my series about podcasting. It was a good episode. I fielded a question about gathering listener statistics and talked about simultaneously broadcasting the show on Ustream. It was about 20 minutes long and an episode that I considered a success.

You’ll never hear it.

Why, you ask? Well, here’s the thing. I was broadcasting to Ustream for only the second time ever. The first time, which you can hear in a recent episode of Yet Another Weight Loss Show, was successful. With only a minor glitch, easily ironed out, I figured I was all set for doing the next show. I thought for sure that the Ustream bit was in the bag. It wasn’t.

I had planned on doing the show earlier in the evening last night, but I kept putting it off because I got busy doing other things—mostly revolving around getting my webcam to work in widescreen like it’s supposed to—and it was 2am before I started the broadcast. Strike one. I was tired.

I had planned on scripting the show beforehand. Now, I never fully script anything, but I like to have an outline of bullet points ready. I didn’t. Strike two.

My To-Do list has had “create a checklist” on it for months. Create a checklist for show production. Create a checklist for post-production. Create a checklist for what needs to happen before pushing the Broadcast button in Ustream Producer. Care to guess what I didn’t do before last night? Yeah, strike three, and I’m outta here.

I did push the Broadcast button, I did do the show, and I did think it was a good one… until I listened to the playback later. In this show, I use a music bed—a series of songs that play quietly under my voice. There are benefits to this that I’ll cover in a future article, but the important thing here is that the music bed was playing just fine through my headphones and was recorded to the podcast just fine.

When I played it back later, the music bed was missing. The problem is that the output I was hearing in my headphones was not the output that was being sent back to the computer for Ustream Broadcaster to use. The output to the computer had all the elements of my audio except the music bed.

Sounds like it’s not a big deal, right? Tons of shows don’t use a music bed—most of mine don’t. Unfortunately, I mentioned it a few times in the show. During more than a couple of segments, I sounded like a raving lunatic who was hearing strange music in his head, and while I won’t say that’s never happened (thanks, J?§germeister!) I can say that it wasn’t happening last night.

I think there are two takeaways from this. First, of course, I needed to plan better. I’ll remember this experience and plan things out better in the future. The second takeaway is the lesson that sometimes you do things that just don’t work out and you have to live with it. I have three episodes between my various shows that have had to be completely scrapped; this is just the latest example. The first time it happened, I was devastated. The second time, annoyed. This time? Still annoyed, but I’ve accepted that this is going to happen every now and then. Hopefully it’ll be extremely rare. But I’ll always have the lost episodes to look back on and lament.

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Imperfection Makes Perfect

Author:

On of the things that I found surprising when I started out in podcasting was the value that imperfection can bring towards your production. I’m about to start my yearly coverage of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe – a daily show that runs each day of the month long festival featuring news, chat, reviews and interviews. This will be the sixth year that it runs, and each year of course has lessons for the following year (be it thing to do better, and things that should never be done again.

I want to go back to my second year to illustrate a point. The first year of the Fringe, I was recording while out and about, finding quiet corners in bars, alcoves in the streets, dark alleyways just out of the volume of the street performers to do the interviews. Mostly because this was 2005 and I didn’t know better, but also because I couldn’t get a "base" to work from that I could set up equipment and get really good sound quality.

Everyone loved the shows though, and it gained popular and critical acclaim (and six years later has a crowd of people eagerly waiting for it to return and performers lining up to get on the show). And in year two I had more time to plan the show, and was doing some volunteer work at a local community radio station. Which meant I had access to an honest-to-goodness real studio. Mixing desks! Microphones! Comfy chairs! Tea and Coffee making facilities!

Perfect, I thought, and proceeded to book in the performers to the studio, rather than a bar that was close to their theatre space. The audio quality was good, the quality of the interview was better than the year before (that’ll be a year of experience talking)…

Yet after a week I got a few listener emails all saying the same thing. They loved the interviews, they loved the people that were on the show (and some were buying tickets on the strength of these spots), but they missed something. They missed the hustle and bustle in the background, they missed the feeling that they were right in the thick of the excitement that the Fringe brought to Edinburgh. They missed the moments I had to stop and let a very loud bus pass before I could ask another question.

They missed the imperfection, and it was that imperfection that created the flavour that the rest of the podcast drew its energy from.

I cancelled the studio, moved back onto the streets, and to this day have continued to do the interviews wherever I as in Edinburgh, be it a quiet coffee bar, the busy Royal Mile, or in the middle of a Bouncy Castle which is being used as a stage to put on a performance of Dracula.

It also led to a special show that I do once a year, where I literally stand on The Royal Mile, switch on the recorder, and just stop and ask people "why are you here?" for 45 minutes to bring over the spirit of the Fringe. And that’s the one I get asked about the most!

The lesson? Pay attention and talk to your listeners, and never be afraid to throw your plans out the window if you’re presented with a more appropriate option. In the long run, it will be improve you and your show.

Image Source: Leith Podcaster, Creative Commons.

Choose Your Weapon: Podcasting Tools

Author:
danielmclark-podcasting-consultant

When it comes to setting up your tools for podcasting, it is entirely possible to spend $35,000! You can choose a $10,000 mixer, two or three microphones at $1000 each and a Mac Pro to tie it all together for the low price of $20,000 (seriously, customize it at apple.com to see what twenty grand gets you). Headphones, cabling, software and accessories… sure, you can easily spend $35,000 or more.

It is also entirely possible to spend $300 on a netbook or small laptop and call it done.

Somewhere in the middle is where you really want to be. Podcasting neither needs to cost more than a college eduction nor be so cheap that overall quality suffers. Fortunately, there are some really great podcasting tools in the middle. In fact, there’s gear in the middle that can make it sound—to your average listener—like you’re talking on a crazy-expensive rig.

The Basics

I won’t assume you have a computer for this exercise. You could very well be reading this in your local library or maybe you’ve just got an iPad. It’s possible. So first, you need a computer. PC or Mac, doesn’t matter. If you’re budget-conscious, stick with PC. Off the shelf, they are far less expensive. If you have a bit of money to invest, consider a Mac. Though pricier, they tend to be more reliable for average users. Let’s not have a giant flame-war here, okay? I said consider, right? Any computer manufactured in the last decade will suffice as far as horsepower and capability, so find your ideal price range and pick a computer.

Your next choice (or your first since you probably have the computer covered) is whether or not you want a hardware or software recording solution. Going with software is cheaper but requires more work with results that can vary wildly. Going with hardware gives professional-level results but is more expensive.

If you choose to go the software route, you’ll need recording and editing software at a minimum, but please throw in a USB headset. Recording into your computer’s built-in microphone nearly always sounds terrible. For the PC, try out Audacity, Adobe Audition, Sony SoundForge or Google for alternatives to these applications. I’m a Mac user so I have no personal recommendation, but I’ve used both Audacity and Audition on the Mac side and am very pleased with both. GarageBand on the Mac is also a solid recommendation. That’s really all there is to the software route. Recording/editing software and a web browser are all you really need to publish.

The list of necessary items grows when you get into hardware. In addition to your computer, you’ll need a mixer, a microphone, headphones and cabling to hook it all up at a minimum. I’ve recently added a boom arm (love it) and I’ll be adding a rack-mounted audio processor (a compressor/limiter/gate) in the near future. A nice 8-channel mixer will support a couple of microphones and other assorted input sources – like a computer, tablet or phone. Your microphone can be dynamic or condenser. Your headphones should be comfortable and produce good sound. Your mixer will output to either your computer for recording (via your computer’s audio input jack or USB) or to a dedicated audio recorder (like the Tascam unit that I use, for example). Podcasting equipment needn’t be super-expensive; you can budget for $1000 and set up your own studio in an hour or two.

So, which will it be? Will you be doing your show with a software solution or will you be trying out a hardware set-up?

Podcasting on a Schedule

Author:

The last article I wrote for BlogWorld was posted nearly a month ago. I’m supposed to be writing bi-weekly, but with BlogWorld NY happening two weeks ago, during my normally scheduled time, I skipped. I could have sent an article anyway – in fact, I had intended to. I figured I’d send the article and if they had time to post it during the hectic time, they would.

But then…

Life bit me on the butt. We moved into a new house that needed a bit of renovating and we had to get settled. My daughter was ending her Kindergarten school year. I had obligations to… well, let’s just say that I put off writing that article for BlogWorld until my regularly scheduled time had passed. I missed my opportunity to keep to the schedule that readers expect, and that’s a big deal whether you’re blogging, podcasting or producing any other content on a schedule.

I’m new around here, and I’ve rationalized to myself that being late this early in my tenure here probably isn’t a huge deal – it’s not like I have tens of thousands of readers waiting for Tuesdays to roll around so they can read my stuff, right? But it’s still a rationalization. Ten or ten thousand, one of the keys to success as a content producer is regularity: setting up and meeting audience expectations.

We podcasters have, in my opinion, an even tougher situation when it comes to scheduling. A blogger can often use quantity to overcome regularity. Posting five times a week can mean it’s okay to post on five random days each week, but many (most, I suspect) podcasters only do one show per week. We’ve been trained by decades of radio and television to expect audio and video content at a set day and time – look at any TV show that got canceled after being moved to a new time slot. If your show is posted on Fridays, you’ll lose listeners the week you post three days late. Or the week you skip altogether.

Sometimes life will bite you on the butt. Times like that, you need a plan. You can suck it up and record the next show, or you can do something a little more… elaborate. For example, I recently turned unintended downtime of a week or two into a six-week long hiatus for all but one of my shows. I’m building a podcasting studio in my new house, and I’m going to debut that along with a reboot of all my shows all at once. It will be a great jumping-on point for new listeners and hopefully generate some buzz as well.

Whether you go simple and just jump back into your groove or go elaborate and come up with a big plan, you’ve got to stick to the schedule you set for yourself. Your listeners expect nothing less.

P.S. Are you a podcaster? Did you attend BlogWorld Expo? I couldn’t attend this one (for what should be obvious reasons after reading this article!) so I’m curious what your take on it was. I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments!

5 Reasons I’m a Podcaster

Author:

I’ve done a lot of things online—blogging, forums, Twitter, Facebook and much more—but what I’ve loved the most is podcasting. When I tell people that I meet that I’m a podcaster, I invariably get two questions. The first is usually “what is podcasting?” The second is almost always “why do you do that?”

  1. Podcasting is the most portable form of information dissemination there is. If you’re looking to consume information, nothing beats podcasting for consumption anywhere. With television, you need a screen to look at. Same with websites and books. Try doing any of those three things while driving a car. But you can listen to a podcast anytime, anywhere. With an iPod, a Zune or a similar device, you can consume that content in the car, at the gym, on a train – heck, you can listen to a podcast while skiing down a mountain. Podcasting even beats radio, as anyone who travels through a tunnel on their way to work can attest.
  2. It’s completely unregulated and open. Remember that movie Pump Up the Volume? These days, Harry would be a podcaster. Why bother with pirate radio that only reaches the people in your town when you can podcast and reach nearly everyone on the planet? The government isn’t going to come down on you; you can use any profanities you like, talk about any topics you want, and not worry about getting fined or arrested. The only thing that movie had that’s missing here is Samantha Mathis.
  3. Not everyone is doing it. Unlike blogging, which feels like everyone and their dog is doing, podcasting is undertaken by a relatively small number of people. I’d never suggest that it’s easy to dominate the top spots in the various directories and search engines for your topic, but where there might be 100,000 blogs about marketing and how to make money online, there’s probably only 99,999 podcasts about… wait, that’s a bad example. Don’t let the number of podcast producers fool you into thinking that nobody is listening, though. Billions of episodes are downloaded yearly—and that’s just the stats from one service. Podcasting has fans.
  4. It’s inexpensive to do on your own. For a beginner, a computer and a headset are all that are required for a decent-sounding show. For those that want to make more of an effort, some good equipment can be had for under $200. Want something a little more Pro? You can get into some excellent gear for under $1000. That’s it. Compare that to producing high-quality video: a camera or two, lighting, sound, set elements and editing software can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. Yes, you can do video on the cheap, realtively speaking, but on the whole, DIY podcasting is far easier, financially, to get into.
  5. People don’t expect something from you daily. This is an important one for me, despite my desire to put out four or five shows a week. The common wisdom with blogging is that you should write something every day (or several times a week at least) in order to build an audience. That was always a problem for me; I found that I hated trying to come with something worthy of being read every day. Podcasts though, are expected weekly for the most part. If you’re putting out a new 30 minute episode once a week, you’re doing great! If you’re doing multiple shows, you’re downright prolific.

At the risk of ruining my third point, I do encourage people to podcast! Why not see if you can work it into your existing online efforts? Try producing a 20-30 minute show once a week for six weeks and see what happens; you might be pleasantly surprised at the results.

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Growing Your Audience with the Ant Mentality

Author:

One of the most basic human instincts we have is to follow the crowd. Yes, everyone also has this need to be recognized as an individual, but on a genetic level, we see the crowd as the safe option. If a lot of other people are doing it, it must be a good idea, right? Yet, following the crowd has a negative connotation for many people, and I certainly don’t think we should be promoting the kind of mentality where people just mindlessly follow others to your blog like a flock of sheep. Mindless traffic is not a good way to grow your audience.

What I’d like to propose instead of the sheep mentality is the ant mentality.

I grew up in the country, so ants weren’t just an isolated problem; they were a common occurrence. If your kitchen floor wasn’t spotless, you were going to get ants, without a doubt. So, I learned from a young age how ants work and what to do to stop them. And ants are complex little buggers. Comparing your readers to ants is not an insult.

Every ant family has scouts that go out to look for food. Ant scouts leave this chemical trail that other ants can follow and that they can follow to find their anthill again. The trail changes based on what the ant is finding – food, danger, etc.

When an scouting ant finds a food source, it is only a matter of time before other worker ants follow the trail to find the food and carry it back to the anthill. That’s why you can’t just squash an ant and call your problem fixed – it is only a matter of time before more ants follow the “hey this way to food” trail and come calling. The ant traps that you can purchase aren’t designed to kill an ant immediately – they are designed to slowly poison, but not before the any carries the poisoned food back to the anthill, where it can kill all of them. If you don’t destroy the entire ant family, more ants are just going to continuously show up in your kitchen.

And ants multiply in a hurry. When one ant finds food, he leads an entire army of ants to your doorstep to collect it. Another way way used to discourage ants at how was with red chili pepper. If you find where the ants are coming into your home (i.e. the line of the “food this way” chemical scent trail) and you sprinkle pepper there…well I’m not sure if it confuses the ants or just deters them, but it certainly does work.

So enough about ants, how does this relate to content creation and your audience?

Well, think of popular bloggers or podcasters who have a large following as scouting ants. They’re always on the lookout for good content, and when they find some, they’ll lead others there with a trail of recommendations – retweets, “likes” on Facebook, even mentions on their blog. You go from one ant to a whole colony of ants in a hurry. If you have good food (i.e., good content), you’re going to attract scouting ants.

Or at least that’s the way it should work, though I know a lot of you are feeling frustrated right now. You have great content. You’re doing everything to ensure that you have unique, interesting ideas to entice the scouting ants. So why isn’t your content popular?

The problem? Without knowing it, you’re doing things to deter the ants. That might be a good thing in your kitchen, but it is definitely not a good thing on your blog or podcast.

  • Do you have enough crumbs?

First, in a home, you aren’t going to get ants in your kitchen if you have a clean floor. No matter how delicious your cooking might be, ants won’t find it if it is sealed away, with no crumbs on the floor. Online, this translates to social media and search engine optimization. What are you doing to promote and get your “crumbs” – aka, content – out there for the scouts to see? Are you ranking well on Google? Are you advertising your posts/episodes on social networking sites? Are you connecting with the people on your industry who have influence? Are you engaging readers? Are you networking with people in real life? I could go on and on, but the basic ideas is this: It is not enough to merely produce great content.

  • Are you poisoning the scouts?

Secondly, let’s look at one of the common ways to get ants out of your kitchen – the ant poison you can purchase that causes scouts to carry poison back to the hill, killing every ant there. For content creators, this poison is inconsistency and low quality. While I do believe that regular updates are important, what is more important in my opinion is that your everything you do is amazing. Some posts/episodes will naturally be better than others, but if you’re not passionate about the topic, if you’re not bringing new or useful ideas to the table, it doesn’t matter if you add more content once a day like clockwork. You’re poisoning your scouts, and they are killing off the readership connection that they could have brought your way.

This point boils down to the following statement: The worst reaction you can have to your content is “meh.” If you write something that people love, they’ll promote it. If you write something people hate, they’ll talk about that too. But if you’re just writing to meet your own self-imposed posting rules…you’re going to get a “meh” reaction, and no one is going to recommend it to others. They probably won’t come back either.

  • Are you confusing the ants?

Then we have the pepper deterrent. With ants, a line of chili pepper across the trail is confusing and off-putting. On a blog, make sure you aren’t confusing and off-putting to brand new readers. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is my site navigation clear?
  • Do I have an “about” page that can easily be accessed from single posts and my home page alike?
  • Is my overall message consistent?
  • Do I make it easy to promote my work?
  • Am I personable, making my audience want to come back for more from me?
  • Can people easily subscribe to my RSS feed and mailing list?
  • Are there any technical problems that could be deterring people?

A lot of bloggers and podcasters, I’ve found, are their own worst enemies. If you have great food, ants should be knocking down your walls to get in, and the reason they’re not is because you’re taking measures to prevent them.

I’d love to hear your opinions on the idea of ant mentality – do you feel like bloggers and podcasters are deterring readers? What are some of the things that you see that would make you leave or not come back, even if the content was great?

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