February 15, 2005

Peas for my Pod

As it seems with anything these days in the gadgety world we live in, once we think we 'got it', it evolves. iPods have been floating around for a few years now, and only now it's quite obvious that having your choice of music on demand is not changing our source, but adding to the array of ways we can absorb entertainment.

A development I have been shunting to one side since October is the arrival of Podcasting. Simply put, you subscribe to an audio feed that interests you by using a piece of software such as "iPodder", when there is a new file added (whenever the creator uploads it), your software downloads it to your computer. The idea is to have your iPod plugged in, and your updates will automatically download to your iPod for you to run off and listen at your convenience. For me, I do not have an iPod, but can still listen from my PC.

The shortcut icon for the iPodder software may prove fateful (image of a Lemon, above), considering that anyone can now become a 'radio star' by having their choice of music, talk show, brag or take on any subject at all. The key is to keep the podcasts coming!. It's the same type of thinout that the Blogging world may experience soon. Blogging is still expanding, however a lot of early adopters have since given up. The same thing could happen with Podcasts.

I work in the Radio Industry, and pre-produced programming like this is nothing new. From my perspective, the part about it being FREE and the other bit about no 'waiting around for courier bags to arrive' and 'non-exclusivity', bucks the trend that's been around since Casey Kasim's Weekly Top 40. I could quite easily create a programming feature which devotes a night of the week, or a roster which exclusively broadcasts podcasts.

I might just go ahead and do it. There are many pro's and cons in considering this new found option. On the one hand, I now have thousands and thousands of hours of pre-produced programming waiting for me, in an equivalent of every podcaster acting as a show producer for my radio station. The biggest staff list the world has ever seen. It's free, it gets updated all the time and anyone can do it - hell, my listeners can make a show at home and I can broadcast their podcast on my station, which they can hear themselves!. Wow.

On the other hand, the fact remains that podcasting is not really intended to be a program for radio broadcast. Its intended to be a copy of a programme (broadcast or not) for one to listen to at their own leisure. I would lose control of programming because instead of programming what goes into the show, I just programme the show as a slot. Sure, its easier, but this has the potential to have the BSA sending me fines for offensive programming which is beyond my control, yet I'm responsible for. Now if I program 8 hours of podcasts a week, I have to audition each show beforehand, and it's highly unlikely I'll have the time to do that.

Where does this leave me? Should I be careful with my iPodder subscriptions if I do intend to broadcast some podcasts? Should I just leave it altogether, or maybe because I'm interested in it myself, should I have a podcast of my own?

I explored that idea, and the first brickwall I hit was storage. I have no money and want everything for free. The indie world is built on no money yet is strong, so if you were about to say that money makes the product better - you'd better hush your mouth, child. Sometimes it does, but something so openly global should not restrict or prevent someone from doing it because it has a cost. I found Streamload who offer "about 4 hours of high-def video, 2,000 MP3s or 10,000 digital photos and send/access about 20 MP3s or 100 photos" for free - although you can only download 100Mb per month. If your mp3 podcast* is say, an hour long and you update it weekly, then you may blow your monthly allowance after three weeks! There are other options to use, with better deals - but they cost moneeeeeey.
*based at 128kbps

The next brickwall you'd hit is how to do it. There is a simple explanation here, but boy-o-boy there's a bit of groundwork to do. Remember, you have to have an idea that can sustain itself week after week, or month after month. The best advice is to cover a subject you know a lot about, and use that (or have a vault of already produced material like Dubber does)

If your podcast is of you talking about something (spoken word), you should have no trouble with recording your voice (editing it if you make mistakes) and putting your show online quite quickly. If its a show (mix of voice and music), you could be raped of your time putting it together - be vewy vewy careful. Oh, and of course you'd have to use proper audio editing software. Try the opensource program Audacity (good for Windows/Mac/Linux). It's pretty easy to use and you can save directly to mp3.

Once you've finished your show, then file size and quality is of importance. If you used Audacity, then go to the next paragraph, otherwise you can use dbpoweramp to convert your audio files and adjust the quality here too. The latest version of this software only allows you 30 days of mp3 conversion then you have to pay $14 for it, so I suggest downloading version 10 which will run unrestricted (at least for now - and Windows OS only). If you are feeling adventurous, you can install the WMA codec or better still, the Ogg codec to really shrink the file size and keep audio quality up!.
note: You will have to instruct your end user to covert the file back to mp3 once downloaded, as most iPods do not play Ogg files yet.

File Format Settings for mp3 podcasts:
• Good Quality: 80kbps (approx 1Mb per minute) - ideal if you have music.
• Okay Quality: 64kbps (approx 1/2Mb per minute) - this is a common setting for voice only.
If you change the setting to 'mono', the file size will reduce and your audio quality will stay good.

If you are happy with using Ogg to compress your audio, then stereo 64kbps at a variable bit rate will sort you out no problems. You could go down to 24kbps or lower for voice-only recordings (knock it to 'mono' as well to shrink file size even further!).

I've decided to put online a short run podcast - of Bob & Eric. Two special guys who see the world differently. Stay tuned, otherwise here are a couple of links to copy and paste into your iPodder that I have found over the last few days of looking around. Enjoy!


The latest Podcast uploads here


Jessie said...

"...most iPods do not play Ogg files yet."

Do you think that iPods will soon play other formats? I'm hesitant about buying one because of the restrictions and also because I want to be able to listen to the radio and record with it.

Richard said...

I certainly hope so. Microsoft have opened the doors to ogg with their Media Player 10, Winamp has supported it for a while now - so lets hope Apple follow suit.

One factor may be DRM coded files (restricting the amount of times we can burn/copy/convert the audio file), wether this gets accepted as a viable way of generating sales from online audio from the users point of view (y'know, versus free KaZaa mp3s etc). There's a lot to consider, but I hope that in the meantime, Apple decide to support it.

It shouldn't stop you from buying an iPod though.. and if you're curious why i dont own one - I'd like to, but would never find the time to put in the earplugs and listen for the "generous amount of time" they seem to rely on for someone to fully enjoy the iPod experience.

Jessie said...

What stops me primarily is the price tag. But 2005 is the year of the mp3 player, so - well, my birthday's coming up!