My first podcast: the inspiration and how I turn an idea into reality (at low cost)

“Welcome to episode one of the Social Hiking podcast”…. so began my first ever podcast, recorded with my friend Nina (@smirnieoutdoors) in her house in Shropshire. The podcast itself, now it has been published, has gone down really well (the feedback has been beyond my wildest dreams), but it is hard to believe that, as we sat there in Nina’s sitting room with our show notes and podcast sponsor, it was only two weeks before that I scribbled in my notebook: “podcast? guest co hosts? Nina?”. This post is the story of what inspired me to decide to record a podcast and how it went from an idea to reality (at minimal cost). Hopefully it will interest, aid and inspire.

All prepared to record my first podcast

Podcasts seem, to me at least, to be having a bit of a resurgence recently. I remember subscribing to quite a few podcasts on my iPod thingy many years ago (I can practically hear the gasps of shock that I owned an Apple product! I can’t remember if it was a nano or a mini, but I didn’t really like it. My iPod Shuffle (original) on the other hand was brilliant! ). As I moved away from iTunes and Apple devices though, my listening habits shifted away. Recently though I have noticed more and more podcasts appearing, coinciding with an increase in my involvement with social audio on a service called Audioboo.

Audioboo is, amongst other things, a social network. I first heard about the service back in early 2010 when Christian Payne (@Documentally) suggested I used it with the ‘social media and fine location mashup map thing’ I had built for my hike of Offa’s Dyke (what is perhaps better known as Social Hiking now!) I dabbled with it, but one of my first attempts received a couple of negative comments (which overwhelmed all the positive ones including it being featured by Audioboo) which put me off. Other than an occasional post, it wasn’t until September last year (2012) that I started using it more regularly and discovered a fantastic community and my confidence began to grow. Inspiration soon followed.

Social Hiking on Audioboo

There are several podcasts I find particularly inspiring. Firstly the app dot net podcast (app dot net is a social media platform and the subject of a future post) – hosted by Dalton Caldwell, its creator. I really like how Dalton uses the podcast to share new features and ideas with the community. Another inspiration is Unfinished Business, a podcast about the business side of web design and development. I really like the informality and the banter between co-hosts Andy Clarke and Anna Debenham. I also really enjoy Business Jazz, hosted by Paul O’Mahony, Roger Overall and Jane Boyle – a podcast about being genuinely attractive in business, where again I particularly like the planned informality and banter. There are also several fantastic outdoor podcasts that I enjoy including The Outdoors Station, Walks Around Britain and Peak Routes.

So I have done enough recording of my own voice that I can tolerate listening back to it (I wonder whether many people ever truly like listening to their own voice!) and I was feeling inspired, enough at least to write down the bare bones of an idea, but who is the audience? Social Hiking has almost 1000 registered users, with a lot more people showing an interest in what the site is about and the maps being shared. Whilst I can easily talk about the site for hours on end, I doubt that would make an interesting podcast! A co host seemed a good idea to help ground me and, as there is such a variety of users, why not a different co host for each podcast?

Inspiration, confidence and audience found, and co host confirmed… now what?

Oddly help came in the form of mushrooms (I hate mushrooms) – Roger Overall, when he is not recording one of several podcasts, is a digital story teller and had just published a fascinating (even for a mushroom hater) interview with an Irish mushroom gatherer. As a follow up, he shared a fantastic guide to making an audio show, which provide a really useful starting point. Unfortunately my budget could not stretch to a professional audio recorder, like the Zoom Rodger suggested, so I turned to the brilliant audio community on Google+ for advice. Whilst the Zoom was still the preferred option, Chris (@pilgrimchris) suggested an android app, Hi Q MP3 recorder (which costs £2.39), as a suitable temporary replacement.

App screenshot

I think the app worked surprisingly well – the podcast was recorded at 128 kbps which, with hindsight, was probably too low (even though the final version is even lower, but more on that below). I was using my Xoom tablet sitting in it’s dock in front of us – I think this worked well for sound levels and easy access to the pause / record button, but I regret having it plugged into the mains as I think this caused an audible hum. I also wish I had paid more attention to Roger’s advice to record some ‘room tone’. In the end it probably took us almost three hours to record just over an hour and half of audio before editing.

Editing was exclusively done using Audacity – available for free download (at this point I should probably disclose that I have had some basic experience of editing sound files in Audacity before whilst creating sound effects for my dad’s pantomimes, so I am not a complete novice). First of all I ran an initial filter to remove background noises, before doing a rough cut to take out the audio for the outtakes ‘teaser’ – this was not originally planned, but there was enough material that, whilst not good enough for the final cut, really captured the essence of the podcast. I then did a second cut, removing dialogue where we went off topic or repeated ourselves, followed by a third more detailed cut tidying everything up (I admit this also involved removing some of my ums and arrs) and making sure everything flowed nicely. The final cut come to just under an hour before music.

As Roger warns, finding the right music is difficult and time consuming. I potentially spent more time on listening to samples than I spent recording the podcast! Initial ideas were a bit too ‘epic’ (I wanted a launch countdown and everything!) or a bit ‘uninspiring’ (I may have used the expression ‘too countryfile’). Nina also expressly forbid anything with panpipes. In the end I bought a license for three short chunks of a suitable track for £26.55 – this may sound a lot, but it can be reused for future podcasts. The shortest version was mixed into the audio at the start and between each section, and the slightly longer version of was used at the end.

My original plan had been to publish the podcast on the Social Hiking Audioboo account, however this was scuppered by its length. I was torn between self hosting (on Dropbox or with my website) or to use one of the sites Roger suggested. I took a look at Soundcloud, but to be honest I found the pricing levels confusing and could not work out whether a feed was created or not. The audio Google+ community were once again invaluable, with the top suggestion (from Ruth Arnold) of using LibSyn (also on Roger’s list) to host the podcast (and collate basic stats), but to use the WordPress PowerPress plug-in to generate the actual feeds – this means I can change where the podcast is stored in the future without upsetting the feeds or requiring people to resubscribe.

LibSyn’s basic package costs $5 per month for upto 50 MB per month. This caused a bit of hassle because the final podcast size was about 60 MB. Rather than get a more expensive package, I decided to export the podcast at a lower quality (I also discovered I need to run another filter to remove noise from the MP3 file before publishing). The PowerPress plug-in has all the settings you could ever need, and it even streamlines the process of requesting inclusion into the iTunes podcast directory (this involved loading iTunes for the first time in years… I am slightly in awe that people still use it). To make it easier for listeners to subscribe, I also added an easier to remember web address on the site’s domain that points to the PowerPress plug-in generated feed.

I still have a lot to learn, but I really enjoyed the process of creating my first podcast. Thank you to everyone who inspired me and who shared their knowledge with me, and thank you to everyone who listened. A special thank you goes to my guest co host Nina for putting up with me and my crazy ideas, and for our sponsor Chocolate Fish Merino.

I am heading down to Dorset next weekend to record episode 2 with Gareth Jones!

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