Michelle asked me to check out this Instapost from January describing the nuts and bolts of Glenn’s weekly podcast. Glenn noted at the time that his production was overly complicated, that the average blogger could produce a decent ‘cast with far less trouble. Michelle wanted to know how much less.
As it turns out, a lot less.
So here’s the cheap, quick, and dirty guide to podcasting. If you’re into monologues, the necessary equipment and software will run you twenty bucks; if you want to work phone interviews into the mix, you’re on the hook for twenty-five more. Mixing them to create an amateur talk radio show costs nothing extra, but you should make sure to read the section below and configure your software accordingly before recording. And please do take note of the legal pitfalls described in the interview section. They’re doozies.
Thanks and praise to Jim Logan of AllBusiness.com for this invaluable primer, upon which much of the following is based.
Got Audacity? If not, get it. It’s free and spectacularly easy to use. Then download a free LAME encoder from this site. You’ll use that to turn your recordings into industry-standard mp3 files. After you’ve unzipped the LAME download, look for the file called lame_enc.dll. Drag it onto your desktop or into some other folder on your hard drive where you’ll remember to find it.
Now you have to spend some money and get yourself a headset with a mic. Plantronics comes highly recommended; this one produces nice clear sound at a shade under twenty dollars. Jack your headset into your computer, open up Audacity, and check the settings. I had to boost the mic volume and change the input setting on the Audacity control panel from “Rear Mic” to “Microphone” the first time I used it.
Once your settings are set, hit the red record button and speak. Hit the yellow button to stop. It’s that easy. When you’re finished recording, go to the File menu and select “Export as mp3”. You’ll be asked to name the recording and then to point Audacity towards the lame_enc.dll file which you dragged onto your hard drive earlier. Do so, then enter any further identifying information about the file that you wish and hit save.
That’s all there is to it. Upload the new mp3 file to your server and link it on your blog and you’re live to the world.
Recording phone interviews
This is a bit trickier, but only a bit.
Two more downloads for this, both of which will cost you. One is Skype, the other is Hot Recorder. Skype lets you use your computer to call any phone number in almost any country in the world for a few cents a minute. The software itself is free, but you do have to buy a minimum of ten dollars of credit if you want to dial out. (Note: Skype-to-Skype calls are gratis.) Hot Recorder is a recording program that works with VoIP clients like Skype; it’s free to try, but $14.95 to purchase.
That takes care of your overhead. Once you’ve installed the programs and bought your Skype credit, you’re ready to plug in your headset and record. First, make sure that Hot Recorder is open on the desktop and shows “Skype.exe” in the source box. Once it does, use Skype to place a call by clicking on the Dial tab, then entering + followed by the number. Hit the red record button on Hot Recorder. Converse. When you’re done, be sure to hit the hang-up button in Skype and the stop button in Hot Recorder.
HR will then ask you to name the conversation and save it. Do so. This will generate a Hot Recorder file. To convert it to an mp3, simply go to your Start menu, find the Hot Recorder folder, and select Audio Converter (which comes bundled with HR). Click “mp3” or, if you prefer, “wav” and convert away.
Easy as pie – from a technical standpoint. From a legal standpoint, not so much. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has a compendium of state wiretapping statutes which you should consult before recording any conversation. Most states say it’s okay to tape if only one party (i.e., the person taping) consents. Some states require the consent of both parties. What’s more, most of these statutes appear to apply only to the actual recording process itself; they say nothing about broadcasting the recorded conversation.
Therefore, if you’re going to interview someone, we’d recommend getting their express permission not only to record the call but to make it public on your website and/or on Hot Air, if you think we might be interested in hosting it. However, this is not legal advice and should not be taken as such. If you want to know for sure what you can and can’t do, ask your attorney.
Now let’s say you want to combine these two methods in order to mimic a standard talk-radio format, e.g., twenty minutes of your commentary on the day’s events followed by a phone interview. No new equipment needed here – Audacity is up to the task. The trick is making sure beforehand that your commentary (which you’ll record on Audacity following the procedure I laid out in the Podcasting section) is recorded at the same speed as the interview (which you’ll record using Skype and Hot Recorder). If not, when you splice the files together you’ll end up with one that sounds normal and the other that sounds incoherently speeded up or slowed down.
Here’s how to adjust the default settings to make things easy on yourself. Open up Hot Recorder and, under the Options menu, select Mono as the recording type. Recording phone calls in stereo splits the call into two tracks, which needlessly complicates any subsequent mixing; recording in Mono puts everything on one track, which makes it nice and neat. Now, open up Audacity and select Preferences under the File menu. Choose the Quality tab and, for Default Sample Rate, select Other. When it prompts you for a number, enter 12000. This is the default speed – at least on my computer – at which Hot Recorder records phone conversations. By setting this as the speed on Audacity too, you ensure that all audio tracks are in sync and amenable to easy mixing. Please note, though: after setting the default sample rate to 12000, you may have to close Audacity and then re-open it for the new rate to take effect.
Go ahead and record with your new settings. Once you’re done and you have a separate commentary file and interview file, you’re ready to mix. Open up Audacity and, from the Project menu, select Import Audio. Import both files. Now that they’re both onscreen, all you have to do is copy/paste the audio of the interview into the appropriate place within the commentary track. Do this by clicking and dragging inside the interview track to highlight the portion of it that you want to copy, then hit the copy button on the Audacity control panel. Now click inside the commentary track at the point where you want the interview to begin and hit the paste button. Voila – you’ve successfully integrated the two, thereby creating a single piece of talk-radio-ish audio.
At this point, there should still be two separate tracks visible in Audacity: one is the combined interview-and-commentary track you just created, and the other is the original interview track from which you copy/pasted. Close the original interview track before exporting the file as an mp3. If you don’t do this, then when you export, Audacity will mix the original interview track in with the combined track and you’ll end up with an unlistenable mess.
Sounds complicated at first blush, but it’s not. Play around with this stuff for an hour and you’ll be amazed at how powerful, intuitive, and inexpensive it all is – an observation which, neatly enough, brings this post full circle. Happy ‘casting.